Feeds

US Army funds hydrogen-fuelled drone aircraft

To join DARPA airship-bot flotilla 12 miles up

The Power of One Infographic

Fuelled by a seemingly inexhaustible stream of federal military/security research cash, the US flying-robot industry seems to produce fresh wonders every day.

We've seen Terminator-esque Flying HKs, droid gunships, and self-piloting special-forces whisper-copters.

Today's robot-related news reveals yet another new twist: the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command has put $6.2m into the "Orion" High Altitude, Long Loiter (HALL) aircraft. The Orion's special sauce is its hydrogen-powered engine, which gives it the ability to operate at 65,000 feet - some 12 miles up - and stay there for better than four days.

The Orion high-altitude hydrogen fuelled sky-bot

According to Flight International, the engine itself is no more than a supercharged Ford car engine modified to burn hydrogen. Presumably, the problems of cryogenic liquid hydrogen boiling off and escaping from the tank are somewhat eased up in the sub-zero heights of the stratosphere.

Orion can only carry about 180kg of payload, however, so it could struggle as an eye in the sky. The US Army are probably more interested in using it intially as a relay for line-of-sight comms links.

But the American soldiery are also interested in long-endurance, super-high-flying air platforms which could lurk far above overseas battlefields and perhaps sniff out incoming enemy cruise missiles or other threats which would be below the horizon. They have plans* to deploy Orion-type robot HALL planes in concert with the American droid airships which are under development.

You didn't know about the robo-airships? They're being built by the Missile Defence Agency (not the same as Army Space & Missile Defence) and - of course - the Pentagon mad scientists (pdf) at DARPA. The DARPA ship will be especially amazing, if it works - able to sit in the sky without refuelling for over a year, and track individual people walking about on the ground from 300km away.

The comparatively dull winged, hydrogen-fuelled Orion is being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences in cooperation with Boeing's "Phantom Works," and there is also a plan for the two companies to build a bigger twin-engined job which could stay at 65,000 feet for 10 days. ®

*The relevant Army pdf factsheet seems to be unavailable as of writing, but you can check the Google html cache here. It's a bit rich in staff-college acronyms.

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.