In its latest advances with drone technology, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, a major space contractor, is experimenting with solar-powered drone technology that will eventually provide a vast network facilitating emergency communications and ground observation.
According to reports from China Daily, China has made progress in Feiyun program. Zhang Hongwen, president of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp said that his academy has made “satisfactory advances” in the Feiyun program by carrying out more than 100 test flights of its solar-powered unmanned aircraft in 2018 which determined the drone’s design and capabilities of the equipment mounted on the drone during the flights.
As per Meng Fanyuan, chief designer of the system at the academy, the drone made of ultralight composite materials and is able to undertake several tasks traditionally performed by satellites and that too at a much lower cost.
When carrying internet-connected devices, the drone-based network will be able to link users in remote, mountainous areas and small islands via the internet and can also provide telephonic services, Fanyuan added. Upon its completion, the system will also be able to maintain at least one week of emergency communication services in case of failure in ground-based communications, the designer went on to add.
The academy intends to form a drone network to display and promote its use in remote sensing and telecommunications over three years starting from 2020 claimed Zhang who also stated that the goal of building a solar-powered drone-based network is to eventually make it capable of providing long-term telecommunications as well as internet and ground observation services from near space.
Near space refers to the region of the Earth’s atmosphere between 20 and 100 kilometers above sea level comprising the stratosphere, mesosphere and the lower thermosphere. It is located in altitudes above where commercial airliners fly, but below orbiting satellites.
Experts say that near space is suitable for solar-powered drones because there are no clouds at an altitude of 20 km or higher, and the airflow there is stable so drones can fully use their solar cells to generate power. The aircraft can theoretically stay airborne for as long as the controllers wish provided the solar power system works well.
A senior researcher was quoted as saying, “Next we will begin tests on the drone’s application in maritime emergency communications as the first step in the Feiyun program’s large-scale trial run. And we will continue optimizing the program’s overall plan as well as its capability and reliability. Over three years starting from 2020, we intend to form a drone network to display and promote its use in remote sensing and telecommunications.”