China’s first fully solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle has successfully completed its maiden test flight with all onboard systems functioning optimally.
- With a wingspan of 164-ft, the drone is a large machine powered entirely by solar panels.
- The high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV can stay airborne for long durations.
- Named the Qimingxing-50, or Morning Star-50, this drone flies above 20-km altitude where there is stable airflow with no clouds. This helps these drones to make the maximum use of solar equipment to stay functional for extended durations.
Cross between drone and satellite
- The fact that the drone can operate in near-space – 20 km to 100 km above the Earth’s surface – makes it capable of carrying out satellite-like functions.
- If satellite services are not available for, say, time-sensitive operations or in case of wartime disruption, then near-space UAVs can step in to fill the operational gap.
- These drones are also referred to as ‘High Altitude Platform Stations’ or pseudo-satellites.
- China already has this capacity, but the Qimingxing-50’s long-endurance provides an added advantage to make this capability available over a longer period.
- In July this year, the US Army helped test a solar-powered, near-space Airbus Zephyr S drone that set a new record by being airborne for 42 days.
- Both these drones can undertake surveillance missions that require them to stay operational, watching over borders or oceans, for months.
Easy to lock-and-load
- Drones like the Morning Star-50 are cost-effective to build and are also easy to launch and operate.
- Being entirely powered by clean energy from the Sun, the present one can help boost China’s capabilities to operate in near-space and over the ocean.
- This HALE UAV is capable of conducting high-altitude reconnaissance, apart from monitoring forest fires, providing communication and environment relay.
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