Facebook Reported to have interest in PV-Powered Atmospheric Satellites

March 05, 2014 by Jeff Shepard

Titan Aerospace, Inc. recently unveiled the SOLARA atmospheric satelliteâ„¢, a high-altitude long-endurance solar atmospheric satelliteâ„¢ capable of carrying telecom, reconnaissance, atmospheric sensors and other payloads. The SOLARA-50, with its 164-foot (50-meter) wingspan and thousands of high-efficiency solar cells, is capable of staying aloft for months or years at a time at an altitude of 65,000 feet (20 km) carrying a payload of 250 pounds (100 kg). During the day, solar energy powers propulsion and payload and charges battery banks for use at night. Facebook has reportedly offered $60 million to acquire Titan, according to industry sources. Up to 11,000 of the larger SOLARA-60 (60-meter wingspan) vehicles would be launched to provide internet service to remote parts of the world for a small fraction of the cost for conventional satellites.

SOLARA’s wings and tail are covered in solar panels, and there are batteries inside the wings. During the day, SOLARA generates several kW of power, and there's enough left over in the batteries to power various loads with a few hundred Watts all night. Because the craft never requires refueling, it can stay aloft for five years, either circling over one spot on the ground, or it can travel at just under 60 knots. The five-year life is based on the anticipated life of the electronic components, not on any fuel-related limitation, so SOLARA may fly even longer missions.

“A conflux of advanced technologies are finally enabling a dream that a lot of people have chased over the past three decades – the vision of an atmospheric satellite™ – to become a practical reality,” said Vern Raburn Titan's chairman and CEO. “By delivering the value of a space satellite at a staggeringly low cost, Titan is poised to re-imagine and expand the satellite industry. I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues at Titan to grow this important market.”

The SOLARA promises to open the door for stationing payloads near the edge of earth’s atmosphere. Unlike space satellites, the SOLARA is far less expensive to buy and launch, has a larger launch window, and most importantly, can easily be brought back for maintenance or payload upgrades. This allows the flexibility of flying different missions with the same serviceable airframe. Initial missions are planned for 2015.