Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: CBS reports that Titan Aerospace has presented its design for “atmospheric satellites” that fly at 65,000 feet and provide drone-like services such as live-mapping and monitoring narcotics trafficking. The Solara series of drones will be able to fly continuously for nearly five years at a cruising speed of about 65 mph, charging its own battery high above commercial aircraft through the use of solar power. "We’re trying to do a single-million-dollar-per-aircraft platform," says Dustin Sanders, Titan’s chief electrical engineer. "And the operation cost is almost nothing — you’re paying some dude to watch the payload and make sure the aircraft doesn’t do anything stupid.” The Solara series are designed to be a fraction of the cost of a satellite, but operate many similar tasks, such as surveillance, crop-monitoring, weather and disaster oversight, or any other monitoring that low-altitude satellites track. The Solara 60 will carry up to 250 pounds of payload, anything from signals intelligence gear or electro-optical sensors to communications equipment. The plane, inspired in part by work done by Paul MacCready, builder of the various solar-powered Pathfinder aircraft, has been made possible by “a confluence of three” factors: lighter, more efficient solar technology; better composites; and improvements to battery weight and power. While these aircraft would clearly be vulnerable to enemy fire given their slow speed and lack of defense, the combination of high-altitude, long loiter time, and relatively low cost compared to satellites and warplanes offers the intelligence and military markets a good cost-capability tradeoff.
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