Current UAVs provide valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage for troops deployed overseas. However, UAVs cannot stay airborne for extended periods of time before needing to be refueled or serviced. DARPA’s Vulture program seeks to develop critical enabling technologies for an airborne payload to remain on-station, uninterrupted for more than five years, performing ISR and communication missions over an area of interest.
Originally a full-scale flight demonstration effort, the program was refocused to concentrate on advancing critical energy management technologies—solar collection (photovoltaics) and fuel cells (energy storage systems). These technologies are the least mature and are vital for enabling ultra-persistent high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) flights lasting multiple years. By narrowing the program’s focus, DARPA seeks to advance energy management technologies that would benefit a number of future HALE aircraft applications and should reduce risk for development of future very long-endurance aircraft programs.
Vulture’s advanced energy storage system technologies ultimately could enable a re-taskable, persistent pseudo-satellite capability in an aircraft package. Such a system would combine key benefits of an aircraft (flexibility & responsiveness, sensor resolution, reduced transmit/receive power, affordability) with the benefits of space assets (on-station persistence, no logistics tail, energy independence, fleet size, absence of in-country footprint).
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