Polish startup working on stratosphere drones which could replace satellites

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On April 18, the team at polish firm Cloudless launched a five-meter wingspan drone up to 24 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. Following an automated 2.5-hour flight, it landed precisely at a point chosen prior to take off.

“The aim of the light was to test the newest prototype of a relatively large drone with a high load in real conditions, which will be able to take onboard research equipment,” engineer Piotr Franczak, who was also the drone’s pilot, told the Polish Press Agency.

This is yet another stratosphere drone flight conducted by two engineers — Piotr Franczak and Krzysztof Bujwid. In the past, they had been able to fly a smaller drone up to an altitude of 27 kilometers.

This altitude is a serious challenge due to particularly thin air in which the drone must stay aloft. Cloudless’ creators explained that the conditions at this altitude are similar to those on Mars.

“Nevertheless, altitude records are not what we are interested in. We want to fly above weather phenomena because that guarantees complete access to sunrays in spite of the weather, and we want our drones to be solar-powered,” Franczak said.

The stratospheric drones will be able to conduct numerous forms of scientific research, including in areas related to environmental protection, space engineering and meteorology – all that will be needed is the right equipment attached to the drone itself.

Franczak also added that another role for the drones would be remote imaging, with the company aiming to observe Earth using cameras or even to create maps that would be more detailed than those made through satellite imagery. During a flight of one of the drones, it would allow for the creation of a very detailed map of a whole city using only Polish technology and equipment.

Yet, Cloudless’ creators have an even more ambitious plan — they want to create stratospheric drones which will become pseudo-satellites. The solar drones could theoretically stay in the stratosphere for up to a whole year without landing and would function similarly to orbit satellites while moving much closer to the Earth itself. This would give drones an advantage, such as being able to photograph surfaces from a closer distance. The drones would also be substantially cheaper than satellites.

Piotr Franczak emphasized that Airbus and BAE systems are also working on such technology and Cloudless wants to prove that it can also be done in Poland. The first tests may be started very soon, as Cloudless has initiated cooperation with the Polish Institute of Technology and Life Sciences, and together they are analyzing the other areas in which the drone can be used.

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