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Solar-powered plane will be world's first commercially viable "pseudo-satellite"

Solar-powered plane will be world’s first commercially viable “pseudo-satellite”

Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane, had its premiere in 2016. Covered with more than 17,000 solar panels and with a wingspan of a Boeing 747, it weighed as much as an SUV.

In 2019 Skydweller Aero, an US-Spanish startup, bought it with the aim to turn the plane into the world’s first commercially viable “pseudo-satellite”. Since then, Solar Impulse 2 has been modified and completed 12 test flights.

Skydweller Aero now wants to modify the aircraft so that it can fly fully autonomously. Removing the pilot and the cockpit will create room for more cargo capacity. It is also an essential step to enable the plane to fly for more than just a few days.

For what can an autonomous and solar-powered plane be used?

It can provide telecommunications (internet or cellular access) to hard to reach by traditional infrastructure places,  deliver earth imaging, offer aerial support during rescue operations or monitor the use of natural resources – for example scouting the ocean for illegal fishing.

There are still challenges that Skydweller must face, such as the fact that the plane needs sunshine to fly or the regulations regarding unmanned aircraft. However, aviation analyst Jeremiah Gertler says “Governments haven’t gotten their minds around uncrewed vehicles yet and carving out airspace for a long endurance mission would be a new challenge. It’s a real race to see whether technology or regulation solves its issues first, but there’s every reason to bet on technology”.