Necessity has for long been known as the mother of invention. As the price of conventional fossil fuels keeps rising, scientists are busily engaged trying to figure out less expensive ways to do things that have become so critical to our lives. For example, building and launching satellites are expensive. Maintaining them while they orbit is costly too.
That’s why rocket scientists have been working on High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircraft that can orbit at altitudes of 15 Km. The recent frisson of excitement in the HALE world has been caused by the successful flight of the Electric High Altitude Solar Powered Aircraft (ELHASPA).
As its name suggests, it is powered by solar energy, which, at least for the foreseeable future, is considered to be inexhaustible.
The ELHASPA is a technology demonstrator designed and built by Germany’s DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, in collaboration with EADS and others.
It is an unmanned aircraft that weighs 100 Kg and can carry a payload of 5 Kg. It is essentially a propeller driven aircraft, the motors driving the propeller shafts drawing energy from an array of photovoltaic panels located on top of the wing’s surface.
These are only early days for ELHASPA, considering that its maiden flight lasted only 30 seconds, and that the objective of the research is to build aircraft that can autonomously for several months, if not years, at a time. Also, for them to be useful their payload must be enhanced to higher levels.