China Successfully Flys Satellite-Like Solar Drone Near Space - International Military

China Successfully Flys Satellite-Like Solar Drone Near Space - International Military
China Successfully Flys Satellite-Like Solar Drone Near Space

Beijing - China successfully tested its first large drone powered exclusively by solar energy, and designed to fly near outer space. The news was revealed by the state-owned aircraft company on Saturday (3/9/2022).

Such vehicles can fulfill several of the functions currently performed by satellites. According to the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the vehicle, called the Qimingxing 50, or Morning Star 50, took off in the city of Yulin, in northwest China, and landed safely after a 26-minute flight.

AVIC stated “After its maiden flight, all components of the UAV system are in good condition. The drone has a super high aspect ratio and the first twin aircraft configuration for its size, and is powered solely by solar power,” the company said.

According to the release, the craft is driven by six electric motors and is designed to perform long-range operations in close space. Zhu Shengli, the drone's chief designer, called it a "quasi-satellite". He added the aircraft could initiate a variety of operations, including high-altitude reconnaissance, forest fire monitoring, atmospheric environmental inspection, aerial mapping and communication signal relay.

He said the solar-powered drones would enhance China's operational capabilities in near space and over the ocean. According to some experts, at altitudes of 20,000 meters or higher, where there are no clouds, drones can make maximum use of solar panels, allowing the vehicle to stay airborne as long as its solar equipment is operational.

According to an unnamed Chinese aerospace expert interviewed by the Global Times, satellite services are not always available due to the limited number of satellites and air links that follow a relatively fixed schedule. However, he said close-range drones could offset those losses in time-sensitive missions.

He noted satellite services could also be sabotaged in wartime, so close-range drones could replace them in that scenario. The Qimingxing 50 is not China's first space UAV, with two Chinese space companies having built models of solar-powered drones capable of flying at the same altitude.

The United States and Britain also have such capabilities. The UK's Airbus Zephyr solar electric plane, the Zephyr, is capable of flying at an altitude of 21 km, and in late August, the high-altitude Airbus Zephyr S flew for 64 days, just hours before breaking the world record, before crashing.

The world record for the highest altitude achieved by a solar-powered drone, 29,524 meters, was set by the US Helios Prototype, developed by technology company AeroVironmentInc in California, in August 2001.

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