However, the weak link to the entire operation is the battery. “Just like a car battery, you can only charge it so many times before it will no longer take a charge,” he says. The company believes that the lithium battery will currently get about 1,500 cycles (the number of times a battery can charge and discharge before it fails). It hopes to reach up to 2,000 cycles – enough for a five-year voyage — by the time the craft is airborne several years from now.
Other companies have attempted to build high altitude, long endurance aircraft, but only a few have come close. AeroVironment, for example, developed the Helios prototype for NASA, but an air mishap in 2003 cut that program short. Boeing was making progress on the SolarEagle when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) scaled back its funding in 2012. However, the team at Titan Aerospace strongly believes that with the help of new technologies, advancements in composites and efficient solar cells this is the perfect time for the Solara vehicle to make its debut.
Titan Aerospace anticipates the Solara 50 will be used for numerous applications, including disaster response. With search and rescue functionalities, the aircraft could perform tasks that are currently limited to helicopters and manned aerial vehicles at a fraction of the cost, says Olsen. The Solara will be equipped with high-resolution, full-motion video cameras that can assist in locating survivors and monitor cleanup. Other applications may include coastal patrol, border patrol and communications. According to Olsen, the craft can replicate 100 cell towers in a 5,000 square mile radius – an ideal application for emerging countries.
In August, Titan Aerospace performed a flight test on a 1/5 scale Solara demonstrator. The demonstrator is still undergoing fatigue tests in the company’s facility. The company also has plans to create its next-generation atmosat – the Solara 60 with a 60-meter wingspan. It’s clear that this two-year-old firm is gaining a lot of attention and journeying into new territory. “We’re really plowing unplowed ground here,” says Olsen.