Feeds

Five-year-mission solar stratocruiser prototype is go

$155m 'Vulture II' robosunbird gets off drawing board

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The famous Pentagon tech wildcards at DARPA have announced plans to move forward with a flying, full-size prototype "Vulture" strato-wingship able to cruise the upper atmosphere for 5 years without landing.

The Vulture programme got underway last year with three competing industry teams carrying out development work on their different concepts. In essence all the designs offered vast, feather-light - yet strong - electrically propelled aircraft able to charge up onboard energy-storage systems using solar power. During the hours of darkness, the ships would rely entirely on stored juice to hold station regardless of powerful stratospheric winds, and to power their payload systems - probably military comms/surveillance kit.

The original phase one effort was intended to deliver nothing more than design studies. Now, however, DARPA has issued a statement saying that it expects to proceed with "Vulture II" next month. This is to involve "manufacturing and flight test of a full scale platform to demonstrate... critical function and capability of all elements of the Vulture II program."

The tech-head agency expects this to be done within a budget of "$155m total". The winning contractor will almost certainly be one of the three consortia which worked on the initial Vulture I design studies.

We here on the Reg stratocruiser desk will be cheering for the innovative "Z-wing" triad ship from Aurora Flight Sciences, BAE Systems and partners. This would see three wing sections take off independently and dock together 17 miles up. The resulting Z-wing would be able to cunningly tilt parts of itself in flight so as to align its solar cells with a sun low on the horizon, as it would be much of the time when flying at high northern or southern latitudes in winter.

Frankly though, any day a $155m deal is awarded for someone to build a five-year upper-atmos wingship is a pretty good day for the stratocruiser desk, so we won't complain whoever gets the job.

But it'll be a big job. At the moment the sunbird flight record is just two nights, held by the Qinetiq "Zephyr", and even that was achieved with the midsummer sun passing almost directly overhead the flight test area. Still, if the Vulture II doesn't work, perhaps DARPA's $400m solar-powered blimp - flight demonstrator now building - will do better. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.