Laser System Keeps UAV in Air for 48 Hours

Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive have developed a laser system that can recharge an unmanned aerial vehicle in flight potentially keeping them in the sky for indefinite periods.

Engineers with the company tested the system in its Stalker UAV in an indoor test in which the drone flew for 48 hours. The drone can recharge its 2-hour battery in flight by linking up with a laser system being beamed from the ground.

“This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field,” said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive. “By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft.”

This system poses all sorts of potential for ground commanders who have constantly demanded long endurance UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Special forces units could especially benefit from a small, long endurance UAV when they are cut off from traditional air power.

The most recent test was done in a wind tunnel, but LaserMotive and Lockheed Martin officials are confident they can soon display Stalker’s capabilities in an outdoor demonstration.

Stalker can fly up to 15,000 feet and carry a payload of three pounds. The smallish UAV has a wingspan of 10 feet and maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. Soldiers can launch the Stalker by hand.

“We’re pleased with the results of this test,” said Tom Koonce, the Stalker program manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “Laser power holds real promise in extending the capabilities of Stalker.”

12 Comments on "Laser System Keeps UAV in Air for 48 Hours"

  1. Very cool! The only downside is you have to have power to supply the laser, and you have to have line of site from the ground. So it would be great for recon over a FOB, but less for any kind of mobile unit. Still a very cool demonstration that could prove useful for a whole host of electronic purposes.

  2. Kevin Parkin, who now works for NASA, did his doctoral thesis on using microwaves to power spacecraft back in 2006 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_L._Parkin). Microwaves could be used instead of fuel to heat air in a jet or turboprop engine in much the same way. The only difference being you don't have to carry your reaction gas with you when travelling in air.

  3. Just an Idea: place solar panels on it's top wings and tires on the base wing and place a 12 hr timed rotating twin engine on its nose…

  4. Interesting also from the point of civilian use; If this is possible for a small UAV moving at speed and low height, surely it must be possible for ground vehicles as well.

  5. stephen russell | July 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    Problems:
    Laser Team under fire
    Losing Laser Unit
    Laser unit stolen or sabotaged.
    Detonate Laser unit from falling into wrong hands?
    weather.
    miccommunication to ID drone etc

  6. well, if this system works as advertised, we'll be able to clear a lot of a drone's mission payload (by removing / shrinking some fuel tanks / batteries), good for CAP on military installations and border patrols. maybe warships could also benefit form this system, a warship the tonnage of a destroyer(maybe smaller if the tech allow) will be able to operate it's own mini(micro)-AWACS for long periods of time, sounds good for countries that can't afford a carrier.

  7. Interesting way to maintain persistent surveillance over a fixed location with short ranges, like say the Straits of Hormuz.

  8. "The drone can recharge its 2-hour battery in flight"

    Problem is it will likely take 3 hours to recharge the battery.

  9. Wait until they come up with the idea to power drone's from satellites and start beaming down a trillion watts over our heads, and then the guidance misses the drone by a few inches and then a grandma walking down the street gets incinerated.

    Pretty cool I admit but this stuff is not new and has been proven to be too inefficient?

    It's sort of like the laser communication system between satellites, the aiming must be the hardest part. And aiming between two satellites is a lot easier then a drone because it doesn't drift in the wind, have atmosphere to deal with, rain, and satellites don't generally spin, roll, yaw, etc.

    Still cool though I am just skeptical it is the best choice for perpetual power.

  10. It's great R&D, but I see some drawbacks… First, the UAV must be on the "target line" of the laser, therefore it has a very limited range to go far behind enemy lines… Second, when I fire a huge blast of laser in the sky I can be saying "look bad guys there is my unarmed and very slow drone!", even tough the laser is invisible to the naked eye (IR detectors).

  11. J.E. McKellar | July 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply

    I got it, they just need to create a large energy source positioned high in the sky that can beam energy to multiple UAVs at the same time. If they can make the device powerful enough, they wouldn't even have to aim the lasers, just blast out the energy in every direction. If they position the source high enough to overcome ground obstructions, they could even power ground vehicles and even whole bases. It would require a lot of power, though, maybe something on the order of a sustained hydro-nuclear reaction…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*