Aurora Flight Sciences, a Manassas, Virginia, headquartered company has announced the award of a contract to develop a radical new aircraft that can stay aloft for up to five years. The company has been given the contract under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programme known as 'Vulture.'
Aurora Flight Sciences manufactures state-of-the-art unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and components for scientific research, defence and homeland security markets. The company says its unmanned aircraft are distinguished by their daring designs and record-breaking performances.
The objective of the 'Vulture' programme is to develop an aircraft capable of remaining on-station, uninterrupted, for over five years to perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communication missions over an area of interest. The technology challenges include development of energy management and reliability technologies capable of allowing the aircraft to operate continuously for such extended durations. 'Vulture,' in effect, will be a re-taskable, persistent pseudo-satellite capability, in an aircraft package.
Aurora's design is called 'Odysseus.' The concept uses solar energy to power the aircraft during daylight, and stored solar energy to power the aircraft at night. The aircraft is designed to fly in the stratosphere throughout its mission.
Aurora's teammates on the programme include BAE Systems, CS Draper Laboratories, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. BAE will focus on payloads, sensors, and concept of operations and employment. Draper Labs will develop the extremely high reliability electronics and control systems necessary to achieve such very long flights. Sierra Nevada Corporation is a specialist in autonomous refueling systems.
Aurora foresees a broad range of potential applications once 'Odysseus' has been proven. Prime among these are global climate change research, weather monitoring, and regional-scale telecommunications.
Aurora has strategic relationships with leading defence companies such as Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and Sikorsky. Aurora has been a major supplier to the RQ-4 Global Hawk programme since 1995, providing the primary composite flight structures for the high altitude long endurance UAS.