Over the past decade there's been a big push for cheaper alternatives to space travel. Blasting man-made objects into orbit has never been a cheap endeavour, and a company called Titan Aerospace thinks gigantic solar-powered drones could even be a far more affordable alternative to launching satellites.
Circling the globe at an altitude of 65,000 feet, the Solara 50 would be kept aloft by its 50 meter/164 foot wings that are completely covered in solar panels. During the day it would capture and convert more than enough power to keep flying all night long, and its creators claim it could stay in the air for as long as five years without needing to land for maintenance. It also means that unlike with satellites, at the end of a mission the payload would be safely returned to earth.
At such a high altitude the Solara 50 could be equipped with wireless communications equipment to blanket an area over 17,000 miles in size. And as IEEE Spectrum points out, a single craft equipped with a cellular base station could replace over a hundred towers on the ground. Titan Aerospace has already successfully tested smaller versions of the Solara UAV, and is optimistic about commercializing the 50 and 60 meter models within a year, with a price tag far cheaper than blasting a rocket into space. [Titan Aerospace via IEEE Spectrum]