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India eyes solar-powered UAVs capable of flying for a fortnight

Panchabuta truly believes in and has often mentioned that the potential for solar lies in the offgrid applications. We have been talking about the immense potential in the telecom space-particularly in the rural telecom and telecom tower space. We have also mentioned that there is immense potential in the defense and the railways for solar pv based solutions. There are also immense opportunities and potential for solutions in the low and medium temperature thermal collectors space.

In yet another unique application, according to reports, India is now also looking at designing solar-powered spy drones which can cruise in the sky for several days at a time.

The high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) solar-powered UAV will not just reduce Indian military’s carbon footprint but more importantly provide a cost-effective and flexible 24×7 ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) platform akin to “a pseudo-satellite” orbiting closer to the ground.

“Yes, Army and IAF have asked us to develop the solar-powered HALE UAV. Initial work is in progress for such a drone which can undertake a 15-day continuous flight over 30,000-feet,” DRDO’s chief controller R&D (aeronautics) Dr Prahlada said.

The drone will harvest solar energy during the day, storing it in fuel cells to provide power for electric motors for night flying. “Solar efficiency is low but we are looking at a payload of around 50 kg (sensors, cameras etc). We will seek some collaboration from either US or European companies,” said Dr Prahlada.

This comes at a time when several international aviation majors are doing cutting-edge research on solar UAVs. Boeing, for instance, is developing a UAV with a 400-feet wingspan, called Solar Eagle, which can operate continuously for an astonishing five years. It is being described as a “zero-maintenance, launch-and-leave UAV”.

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