Living With Technology / High altitude pseudo satellites
When I think of drones, two types come to mind. First, the consumer ones that can be purchased for anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. They’re generally for recreation and taking cool pictures of family events and pictures. Second, I think of military drones that perform precision air strikes on places far, far away.
But drones do far more than that.
Of course, there are the package deliver drones such as what Amazon and other companies are pursuing, search and recovery drones that help find people in disaster areas, drones that do inspections of difficult to access or dangerous locations and lots more.
All of these drones stay aloft for a limited time. The consumer drones last maybe 25 - 30 minutes. Military drones can stay aloft for hours. But in these cases, they have a finite amount of fuel onboard.
Enter Zephyr (https://www.airbus.com/defence/uav/zephyr.html), part of the airplane company Airbus. They have created a solar powered drone that can theoretically stay aloft for months.
By being very light and battery powered, what it does is when there’s light, it climbs and charges its batteries. When there’s no light, it reduces power, but descends to a lower altitude. When the light arrives again, it starts climbing again.
Because Zehyr can fly at around 65,000 feet, there is no weather to contend with.
Airbus recently completed a test flight of almost 24 days.
Given the Zephyr’s capabilities, it’s being referred to as a High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS).
Most satellites are launched by some combination of aircraft and rockets. The Zephyr can take off like a regular airplane and then climb to whatever altitude it is needed. Additionally, unlike most satellites, it can be moved from one location to another.
There are, of course many military uses for this sort of technology, but also for communities. For example, a Zephyr drone could provide almost instantaneous communications after a disaster simply by directing a Zephyr to fly above the affected area. In addition, a Zephyr could provide virtual continuous photographic or video coverage of a natural disaster to help rescue workers decide where they need to be.
I look forward to seeing more of these sorts of uses of drones in the future and hope that their benefits will be made available for very positive outcomes to our society.
Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive and a resident of Westport, Connecticut. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.