Thin film to power drones

Although reviled by opponents of ‘ugly’ and ‘irresponsibly planned’ large-scale solar farms in the UK countryside, the subject of fierce trade wars around the world and implacably opposed by the big business interests behind the fossil fuel industry, it’s fair to say solar has never had to worry too much about an image problem, thanks to its obvious green credentials.

But that almost universal goodwill could be about to disappear for Colorado-based thin film manufacturer Ascent Solar which yesterday (Monday) revealed its cells will be used to power the Silent Falcon unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The press release issued by Ascent – prominent on the investors section of the manufacturer’s website and absent from the media page – describes the Silent Falcon UAV, or drone, as such remotely-controlled vehicles are better known, as having a range of "commercial, public safety and defense applications."

Although drones are increasingly being used for monitoring wildlife populations and for other conservation uses worldwide, to the man on the street they are most readily associated with their use to carry deadly payloads in areas of conflict such as Afghanistan and Iraq and Ascent’s PR department may become a lot busier in the wake of the announcement.

Silent Falcon AUS Technologies, the company set up by Colorado-based aerospace company Bye Aerospace in 2010 to develop the drone is preparing production runs for the first orders.

A growing military market

"We believe the Silent Falcon AUS has a large and growing military and international commercial market," said George Bye, in the Ascent Solar release, confirming customer flight demonstrations are already under way.

"Sales exceeding several hundred units per year are possible. Customers now have access to the remarkable capability of the Silent Falcon AUS for the first time," he adds, ominously.

The Ascent Solar tie-up was announced in the week the United Nations holds a week-long conference in Geneva to consider whether to ban the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).

The opportunities offered by solar in unmanned aerospace development were further highlighted last week when the Product Design and Development (PDD) website reported a successful test flight of the SkyOrbiter, developed by Portuguese start-up Quarkson.

PDD on Thursday reported Quarkson’s belief its SkyOrbiters will eventually be able to hover at a height of 22,000 km for up to a year at a time, thereby bringing Wifi internet to everyone on earth.

Quarkson, which is appealing for public donations to fund the SkyOrbiter’s development, is preparing to demonstrate its prototype publicly on April 30 at the Castelo Branco maiden flight SkyOrbiter constellation challenge, in Castelo Branco, Portugal.