A new solar aircraft might stay in the air for an entire year without landing

As a 'pseudo-satellite', it could be the future of military drones.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Back in August of 2021, news surfaced that the US Navy was working with a U.S.-Spanish aerospace company called Skydweller on an uncrewed aircraft also called Skydweller, which is capable of staying in the air for 90 days without needing to land thanks to large strips of solar panels on both of its wings. Since then, Skydweller has been busy most recently raising funds for its innovative airplane.

A $14 million contract

Last month, the firm was awarded a $14 million contract with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), in conjunction with U.S. Navy, to advance and integrate technologies in support of Skydweller’s development, according to a press release by the firm.

“Furthering perpetual flight aircraft for solving next-generation government sensing and monitoring solutions is critical to national security. This collaboration will accelerate the development of our platform, providing a viable, carbon-neutral solution which expands the aircraft mission capabilities significantly,” said at the time CEO Dr. Robert Miller.

“This contract allows Skydweller to continue supporting the Department of Defense by addressing the current needs of our Combatant Commands and creating military-grade unmanned aerial systems that can operate safely and reliably at record endurance in various, changing environmental conditions.” 

Staying in the air for an entire year

Now, according to a CNN interview published Thursday, Miller says the plane could possibly stay in the air for an entire year and serve as the world's first commercially viable "pseudo-satellite." What is that?

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"A pseudo-satellite is an aircraft that stays aloft, let's say, indefinitely," explained Miller. "That means 30, 60, 90 days -- maybe a year. And as such, it can do basically anything you would imagine a satellite can do." And since the plane can return to Earth whenever its operators desire, it would not create a problem with space debris that most satellites face today.

Even better, Miller and his team have engineered the plane to be able to fly autonomously like a drone. There is a pilot there for safety but not a necessity. Miller now hopes the aircraft could be deployed as early as 2023.

Once it has been deployed, it could undertake many applications with environmental benefits such as monitoring the use of natural resources and even disaster response. 

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