Commercial, Unmanned

Aurora’s Solar-Powered UAS Can ‘Fly Indefinitely’

By Nick Zazulia | November 15, 2018
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Aurora Flight Sciences odysseus

Aurora Flight Sciences Odysseus. Image courtesy of Aurora

Boeing-owned Aurora Flight Sciences’ new Odysseus unmanned aircraft system (UAS) “can effectively fly indefinitely,” according to the company, capable of months-long flights as it gathers data for climate research.

The Odysseus is a high-altitude autonomous platform that runs on solar power. It can persistently remain on station to monitor and transmit data in pursuit of research efforts. Its wingspan and lightweight enable payload options tailored to the mission and Aurora said it has a greater year-round global operating zone than any other vehicle in its class.

“Aurora was founded by the idea that technology and innovation can provide powerful solutions to tough problems that affect all of humankind,” said Aurora President and CEO John Langford Wednesday in a news release. “Odysseus offers persistence like no other solar aircraft of its kind, which is why it is such a capable and necessary platform for researchers. Odysseus will indeed change the world.”

The UAS, named for the Greek king and eponymous hero of Homer’s “Odyssey,” is a successor to the Daedalus project, itself named for the Greek craftsman who built the wings that allowed his son Icarus to fly too close to the sun. Daedalus was an aircraft built by Langford and colleagues at MIT in the 1980s, which executed a record for human-powered flight with a 72-mile journey between Greek the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini in 1982.

Langford called Odysseus “an idea borne out of Daedalus,” which empowers the former’s persistence with its lessons.

Aurora lists a range of missions across communications, connectivity and intelligence as potential applications for Odysseus, but its primary function is climate research. It can measure vegetation, ground moisture, ice coverage and flow rates in the moment and over time, and the fact that it’s solar-powered makes it a far cheaper potential solution than something like a satellite.

Autonomy has been a big focus for Boeing. The manufacturer acquired experimental UAS company Aurora last year as part of its increased focus on the subject. This year, in pursuit of the same agenda, it agreed to lease space at MIT, the school that created Daedalus.

As initially reported by Aviation Week’s Graham Warwick, Odysseus’ first flight is scheduled for April 23, 2019, the 31-year anniversary of Daedalus’ flight over the Aegean Sea.

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