Feeds

US Special Ops buys hydrogen droid strato-comms tech

Super-troopers offer 3G coverage, HD propaganda

Security for virtualized datacentres

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has decided to buy a hydrogen-fuelled robot plane which can cruise at 60,000 feet or more for five days at a time.

The cost-plus deal allocates $57m for an initial "Global Observer" drone, with options for an additional two aircraft which could take the total value to $108m.

SOCOM commands most of the USA's well-known-yet-frightfully-secret elite forces, including Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Rangers etc. It also controls a substantial fleet of aircraft, including Spectre gunships, various helicopters, and soon the long-awaited CV-22 "Osprey" tiltrotor, also going into service with the US Marines.

Forget satellites, this is what you want.

Now, however, SOCOM is moving into the High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircraft world with the Global Observer. According to Aerovironment, the maker, a Global Observer will be able to make "five to seven day" flights at "55,000 to 65,000 feet... A system consisting of two or three aircraft will provide continuous [spying] or communications relay over an area of interest."

It has sometimes been assumed in the military/tech press that Global Observer's prime mover is hydrogen fuel cells, but in fact Aerovironment and SOCOM are careful to avoid saying this, merely describing the vehicle as "hydrogen powered". One does note that this federal government notice dated from January says:

AeroVironment designed and built a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine and power-plant and successfully demonstrated it in an altitude chamber for a non-stop mission profile of five days at simulated operational environment above 65,000 feet. Hydrogen power is a critical technology to achieve the long duration requirements of the UAS. AeroVironment is currently executing a risk reduction program to develop and demonstrate a full-scale, flight prototype power-plant, propulsive motor, and liquid hydrogen fuel tank under a contract with USSOCOM.

This suggests the Global Observer may get some or all of its power by burning hydrogen in a fairly ordinary internal-combustion engine. It's possible to speculate that this engine will drive a generator feeding electric-drive propellors, rather than using a gearbox.

The aircraft pictures, the very limited capabilities of current fuel-cell aircraft, and the fact that the Observer will need lots of electricity to power its spyeye or comms payload all tend to bear this out.

So does the fact that the Orion drone, also hydrogen-fuelled for high-altitude loitering, is said to be driven by nothing more technically advanced than a supercharged Ford car engine, albeit in this case one coupled directly to the propellor.

Car engines will fairly happily burn hydrogen, but on the ground there are severe problems with the cryogenic liquid fuel boiling off from even very well insulated tanks - it's typically all gone within days. That's probably not so much of an issue up in the freezing heights where the Global Observer will fly, however.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
Moment of truth for LOHAN's servos: Our US allies are poised for final test flight
Will Vulture 2 freeze at altitude? Edge Research Lab to find out
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.