Ordnance Survey has announced plans to launch a new solar-powered drone to capture images of the earth and collect survey data.
The craft, named Astigan, weighs 149 kilograms, has a wingspan of 38 metres and can fly at heights of 67,000 ft (20,400 metres) – nearly twice the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner.
Ordnance Survey said it can be positioned to view any part of the Earth and collect data over a broader range compared to conventional aerial imagery capture.
The platform has been specifically designed to complement existing satellite services, and will fly for up to 90 days at a time without having to land; the equivalent of circumnavigating the earth four-and-a-half times.
The project has been four years in the making, involving close collaboration between British SMEs, industry experts and universities.
Once Astigan is launched, the organisation said, it “has the potential to work alongside existing mapping capabilities to revolutionise the speed, accuracy and cost involved in mapping a country.”
Brian Jones, Astigan Managing Director, commented: “This remarkable aircraft has met every goal and passed all milestones in its ambitious development programme so far. We are excited about the year ahead as we increase our flights and move towards a fully operational high-altitude test.”
Jones added: “By the end of 2019, we aim to be completing endurance flight testing, building up to 90 days non-stop, which is the operational capability we’re striving for.”
Astigan could also play a significant role in climate and environmental monitoring, Ordnance survey said, which could include early warning, observation and communications over natural disasters around the world.
Neil Ackroyd, co-founding director of Astigan and acting CEO of Ordnance Survey, said: “Astigan supports Ordnance Survey in enhancing its capabilities to work in partnership with other nations across the globe.
“By aligning this capability with our world-class geospatial production and mapping expertise, we hope to support organisations and countries in tackling major societal challenges including urbanisation, land management, environmental changes and mapping to support emergency response in the case of natural disasters.”