Internet access from the stratosphere comes closer

May 14, 2017 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In remote areas, broadband internet access could be provided by unmanned platforms cruising in the stratosphere. Science fiction? Not at all. Across the globe, scientists and commercial companies are busy turning this vision into reality. Now the prototype of a new generation of high-altitude solar electric planes completed its maiden flight.

Autonomous solar-powered motor-gliders, flying at high altitudes could in the future be used to establish comprehensive internet access. But so far, only tiny prototypes with an even tinier payload have been used to test this concept. Now Elektra-2 pushed the limits farther: The plane can carry a payload of 100 kilograms to the stratosphere. The solar-powered Elektra-2 took off for its maiden flight in the skies over Switzerland. The plane, developed by Elektra-Solar GmbH, a spin-off from German aerospace research center DLR, has been purpose-designed to carry such payloads into an altitude of 20 kilometers or 66.000 feet. Elektra-2 is equipped with an automatic flight control system developed at DLR. With a weight of just 420 kilograms, the plane is establishing a new world record in solar-powered flying at high altitudes and in weight-to-payload ratio for such planes.