The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for subsequent use in the military. They fund the development of new technologies from rising entrepreneurs and scientists. If the projects are later approved by the defense, then the project builders can produce them for the military, including NASA.
One of their projects is called Vulture program
, which will be an unmanned aircraft that can stay in flight for five years non-stop. They describe this program as a “persistent pseudo-satellite capability in an aircraft package." The video shows the flight animation of a possible Vulture aircraft.
DARPA Vulture program manager Daniel Newman told Flight Global magazine:
Aviation has a perfect record--we've never left one up there. We will attempt to break that record…DARPA We want to completely change the paradigm of how we think of aircraft.
The unmanned aircraft will help the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communication missions.
One of the main requirements of the project is the company that builds this aircraft can’t use a radioactive source to power the aircraft. They also can’t use a blimp-like vessel. They probably will end up using either fuel cells or solar cells. The aircraft should carry a minimum payload of 1,000 pounds and able to maintain sufficient speed to withstand high winds at 60,000 to 90,000 feet.
It will resemble a satellite but will have plane-like capabilities that can alter its path and fly at varying speeds.
There are other unmanned surveillance aircrafts but they can’t fly for long periods or long distances non-stop.
NASA is already working with Ohio Aerospace Institute in making a bird like solar plane
that will be conducting similar unmanned surveillance missions. The plane's uses may extend to Mars and Moon exploration.