Solar-powered Odysseus will gather data for climate research

By Patrick C. Miller | November 15, 2018

Aurora Flight Sciences—a Boeing company—this week unveiled a new solar-powered, autonomous unmanned aircraft system (UAS) called Odysseus, which the company said can effectively fly for indefinite periods of time in the stratosphere.

Odysseus—an ultra-long endurance, high-altitude platform scheduled for its first flight in spring 2019—uses advanced solar cells and lightweight materials for missions that include communication, connectivity and intelligence. According to Aurora—headquartered in Manassas, Virginia—Odysseus was designed to help fill the need for climate and atmospheric research. Its key features are:

-       The ability to persistently and autonomously remain on station over a specific location for communications and data gathering.

-       A greater year-round global operating zone than other vehicles in its class.

-       The capability of carrying a large payload, enabling more missions and better data quality.

-       Being deployable at a fraction of the cost of a satellite with the capability of being quickly customized, re-tasked and relocated as missions evolve.

Intended to assist climate and weather researchers, Aurora said Odysseus will provide long-term, high-resolution observation capabilities. The platform can measure vegetation, ice coverage and flow rates, as well as ground moisture. Because of its ability to track and measure the movement of severe weather events, monitoring weather and storms during peak seasons should be less expensive and more accurate.

Aurora said the inspiration for Odysseus started with the Daedalus Project, which set records in distance and for human-powered flight in 1988 with a 72-mile flight between the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini. The project was organized and led by John Langford, Aurora president and CEO, and other MIT colleagues who later founded Aurora. Daedalus’ records still stand today.

“Aurora was founded by the idea that technology and innovation can provide powerful solutions to tough problems that affect all of humankind,” Langford said. “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.”