Feeds

US Special Ops buys hydrogen droid strato-comms tech

Super-troopers offer 3G coverage, HD propaganda

High performance access to file storage

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.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.