Germany's DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics flew its unmanned solar-powered ELHASPA aircraft for the first time this month
There's no doubt that satellites have become an essential part of our daily lives, making things like communications, navigation, weather forecasting, and remote imaging all possible. Unfortunately, the orbiting objects can be very expensive, both to build and to launch into outer space. For some of the functions that they carry out, however, an actual satellite isn't required - a high altitude, long endurance (HALE) aircraft could also get the job done, and at a much lower cost. Some such aircraft have been powered by conventional fuel, batteries, and hydrogen. On November 13th, though, the Electric High Altitude Solar Powered Aircraft (ELHASPA) joined the ranks of HALE aircraft to fly using nothing but the power of the Sun.