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South Korea to develop solar-powered stratospheric drones by 2025

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : September 15, 2021, 17:57 Updated : September 16, 2021, 07:58

[Courtesy of Airbus]

SEOUL -- South Korea's science ministry will develop a solar-powered stratospheric drone by 2025. About 37.4 billion won ($32 million) will be invested into the development of a high-performance drone that can monitor and observe the ground while floating in the stratosphere for over a month.

Stratospheric drones can monitor the ground at a high altitude of 50 kilometers (31 miles). They can monitor wildfires, marine pollution and sea-level rise. Because abnormal weather conditions barely occur in the stratosphere, the very top layer of the Earth's atmosphere is an optimal place for long-term flight aircraft operation. Currently, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus' solar drone "Zephyr S," is the only stratospheric solar-powered drone that has achieved the record of flying for 26 consecutive days. The drone can mount 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of equipment.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement on September 15 that through a four-year project, the ministry will build a solar-powered drone that can stay up in the sky for more than a month to carry a load of about 20 kilograms. "There are various development projects for materials, parts and devices are underway and such projects will create a big synergy if they are linked to this stratospheric drone project," Yong Hong-taek, the science ministry's director of research and development policy, was quoted as saying.

To secure ultra-light hull technology, the core technology of stratospheric drones, it is necessary to develop high-performance batteries and secure material and parts technologies such as carbon fiber composite materials.

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