Earth observation and global communications – these two terms immediately bring satellites to mind. Constructing these satellites and placing them in orbit is costly and, at the end of their missions, their remains are sometimes left behind to become space debris. Aircraft or helicopters, however, are also not ideal for these tasks. Their deployment is limited by factors of time and location and highly dependent on the weather. A team from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is researching and developing an unmanned, solar-powered stratospheric aircraft for future scientific experiments that combines the advantages of spaceflight and aeronautics.
Alpha HAP design study (Picture source: DLR)