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Using Solar Cells to Power Drones

Solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will soon take flight.

by Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal, N.M. / February 2, 2017

(TNS) -- ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque-based SolAero Technologies Corp.’s space-tested solar cells will soon be powering unmanned aircraft made in New Mexico and Colorado.

SolAero, the company that bought out Emcore Corp.’s solar space division in 2014, is working with Silent Falcon UAS Technologies in Albuquerque and Bye Aerospace Inc. in Denver to build its solar cells into the wings of unmanned aerial vehicles built by both companies.

The two drone makers are actually connected at the hip. Silent Falcon is a spinoff company from Bye Aerospace, with Bye CEO George Bye serving as chair of the Silent Falcon board.

Both companies have designed new solar-powered UAVs. The Silent Falcon UAV is a compact craft built to stay aloft for long periods. It can be armed with sensors for defense and commercial operations.

Bye’s StratoAirNet UAV is much bigger. It’s designed for long-duration, medium-altitude flights to provide surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance support for commercial and government operations.

Both craft need robust solar cells that can resist difficult conditions while keeping the drones up for long periods, encouraging the companies to turn to SolAero for their power.

“SolAero’s solar-cell technology is extremely robust,” said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown. “It was built to power satellites and to withstand harsh conditions. We’re working to build the cells directly into the wings of our UAV.”

For Bye Aerospace, SolAero’s technology provides the power needed for the StratoAirNet, which has a 49-foot wing span compared with the Silent Falcon’s 14 feet, Bye said.

“We’re applying the latest in photovoltaic technology,” he said. “We expect to be ready for our flights with SolAero cells in the spring.”

SolAero is working to integrate the cells with the UAVs at its headquarters at the Sandia Science and Technology Park.

©2017 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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