Laser-Recharging System Could Allow Drones To Fly Indefinitely
July 21, 2012

Laser-Recharging System Could Allow Drones To Fly Indefinitely

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An innovative new laser power system could theoretically allow an unmanned drone to remain airborne for an indefinite amount of time, if recent tests conducted by one American aerospace and defense company are any indication.

In a July 11 press release, officials with Lockheed Martin announced that the laser system, which was developed by Kent, Washington-based research and development company LaserMotive, allowed the Stalker Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to remain in the air for more than 48 hours.

The increase in flight duration represented a 2400% improvement in terms of flight duration for the Stalker, a small and silent unmanned drone that has been used by Special Operations Forces to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over the past six years, the company announced.

“We´re pleased with the results of this test. Laser power holds real promise in extending the capabilities of Stalker,” Tom Koonce, manager of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Stalker program, said in a statement. “A ground-to-air recharging system like this allows us to provide practically unlimited flight endurance to extend and expand the mission profiles that the Stalker vehicle can fulfill.”

Prior to the indoor flight test, which was conducted inside of a wind tunnel, the Stalker UAS was modified in order to incorporate the LaserMotive-developed proprietary system which allows wireless energy transfer over long distances using laser lights.

The system allows the drone to receive a continual source of power, and by the conclusion of the test, the battery of the UAS had more stored energy than it did at the start of the trial, which had only been conducted because the Stalker had surpassed the endurance goals established by the researchers.

“This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field,” LaserMotive president and co-founder Tom Nugent said. "By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft. The next step in proving the reality of this technology is to demonstrate it outdoors in an extended flight of the Stalker.”