A solar-powered, ultralight aircraft is studying climate change

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Aurora Flight Sciences, an aeronautics company acquired by Boeing in 2017, unveiled a solar-powered self-propelled aircraft called Odysseus back in late 2018, with the primary goal of helping researchers collect data on climate change from 2021 to 2022, a satellite operating system. for a fraction of the cost. Named Odysseus, the carbon fiber machine is one of the so-called high-altitude drones (HALE) and, according to its manufacturer, distinguishes it from similar devices: it alone is able to float permanently in one place, carry more load, and cover a larger area than known competitors in preparation or in production.

The drone’s six propellers are powered by solar panels and batteries capable of producing 250 watts of constant power, allowing Aurora to carry an unprecedented 25-kilogram payload on similar machines. The feather-weight monster has a wingspan of 74 meters, but its weight is only lighter than a Smart car – a Smart Fortwo currently in production weighs 890 kilograms. Officially, the term “several months” is used in its description below endurance, but in its communication, Aurora is happy to refer to “its solar panels can keep it in the air virtually indefinitely”. The built-in, high-resolution monitoring system of the stratosphere can measure vegetation, changes in ice cover, and even soil moisture. Although the company has not commented on exact amounts so far, climate researchers may find Odysseus ’main attraction to be orders of magnitude cheaper than a satellite that ranges from $ 400 million to $ 500 million, according to Globalcom.

Three prototypes have been made from Odysseus, the first two of which are still being tested for airworthiness and the use of solar energy, and the third prototype, which will fly in 2021, will already be equipped with an ozone layer tester developed at Harvard University to test the machine’s load capacity. The Odysseus will first take off from Puerto Rico on April 23, 2019, scheduled for the 31st anniversary of the Daedalus 88 human-powered aircraft developed at Massachusetts University of Technology (MIT) – Greek Olympic cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos 115 during the event leading up to the founding of the Aurora. drove the plane over the Aegean Sea for nearly four hours.

“Aurora’s founding was driven by the idea that technology and innovation can provide effective solutions to serious problems that affect all of humanity. The birth of Odysseus was inspired by Daedalus and is now able to provide real help to advance important research related to climate change or other atmospheric issues, ”said John Langford, CEO of Aurora, who was also one of the leaders of the Daedelus project, in a statement. Founded in 1989, Aurora Flight Sciences has made the most of its history with its collaboration with NASA, but events have accelerated since the 2017 Boeing acquisition. In January 2018, the largest octocopter drone with a carrying capacity (220 kilograms) was built, and last May, fuel, water and medical equipment were delivered to Marines by a self-guided helicopter during a California test. In addition, the US Department of Defense last year allowed the transfer of technologies developed in state-funded projects for commercial use, so by 2023 the company plans to produce human-operated and later self-driving air taxis.

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