China's first near-space solar drone ‘Rainbow’ has successfully conducted a flight at an altitude of 20 km on Tuesday.
The project team under China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced Tuesday that the CH UAV, flew smoothly in near space for over 15 hours under control, finishing its scheduled path before landing securely, Xinhua reported.
The near space region, which lies 20 to 100 km above sea level, contains thin air that reduces the performance of traditional fuel-powered aircraft engines.
However, solar drones like the CH UAV can perform well in this area and it is expected that such aircraft may be able to fly continuously for months or even longer in the future, Li Guangjia, director of the project, was quoted as saying in the report.
The CH UAV, with a wingspan of 45 meters equipped with solar panels, boasts a high cost efficiency as it does not require refuelling during long-term missions, said Shi Wen, chief engineer of the project.
Also, the solar-powered feature allows the UAV to generate no air pollution, making it environmentally-friendly, Shi said.
The CH UAV team said the project has overcome challenges in some key technological fields, such as aerodynamics, flight control and efficient use of energy, during its development.
It has taken over one year to solve the issue of precise control in complicated weather conditions to ensure more reliable flight.
"With the development of the CH UAV, new technologies and products such as graphene-related materials, advanced solar cells and innovative energy storage methods will also be developed and these will further promote China's aviation industry," Shi said.
According to the project plan, the CH UAV will perform as a "quasi-satellite" in the future, being able to supplant some functions of telecommunication satellites in providing data relay services.
It is also expected to be used as "an airborne mobile Wi-Fi hub" to provide convenient mobile telecommunication and Internet access for remote areas and islands, saving the huge construction and maintenance costs of traditional communication means.
According to Shi, the UAV will also be capable of forestry and agricultural surveying as well as early warning and real-time monitoring of disasters.
"In earthquake, flood or forest fire situations where telecommunications are cut off, such vehicles may provide services to maintain communication with the affected areas," Shi said.