Lightweight, Flexible Solar Power Solutions for UAVs

Alta Devices

Alta Devices is a developer of solar cell technology that is designed for autonomous unmanned systems. It is extremely thin and lightweight and can be integrated directly into a wide variety of materials. Alta Devices holds the world record for solar efficiency.

Our technology can be used in autonomous applications, from sensors in remote environments to long-endurance, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Empowering Autonomy

For electric autonomous vehicles to become truly widespread, they need a way to seamlessly recharge. Alta Devices solar technology enables vehicles to recharge while in motion and extend endurance yet has minimal impact on aerodynamics and design. Alta Devices is empowering autonomy for UAVs, vehicles, spacecraft, and sensors and is a strategic asset for these systems.

True Autonomy is when high-tech sensing and processing technology is combined with the most innovative power technology. Combining artificial intelligence, radar, sensors, robotics and aerodynamic design with Alta Devices solar power results in True Autonomy.

Solar Power for Unmanned Systems

The goal for unmanned vehicles, including HALEs and sUAVs, is to fly for as long as possible. However, current flight times are limited by the battery life of the system. Adding a lightweight, renewable energy source like Alta Devices’ solar solution significantly extends flight time, and in many cases, can eliminate the need to recharge from a power grid. Adding power without compromising the weight, size, or maneuverability of the aircraft is ideal for unmanned systems that require power for long endurance missions without returning to ground.

Solar Powered UAV

Example Wing Layouts

Because of their thinness and flexibility, Alta Devices solar cells can easily be adhered directly to a wing or fuselage surface with negligible impact to aerodynamics. It is also possible to integrate the cells directly into carbon fiber or fiberglass resulting in a seamless structure. Further, due to our ability to create custom solar arrays and shapes, we can deliver a solar solution designed specifically to your product. Below are some examples of solar wing layouts.

Aircraft Wing Solar Panels

The shaded area shows region covered by solar cells, and the weight indicated is for un-encapsulated solar product.

More Information: Solar Cells for UAS

Revolutionary Solar Power Technology

Flexible Solar Panel

With its proprietary revolutionary technologies, Alta Devices manufactures the world’s thinnest and highest-efficiency solar cells using Gallium Arsenide (GaAs). Our highly efficient processes have resulted in a significant reduction in cost and manufacturing time compared to traditional technologies.

Our flexible GaAs solar cells and modules boast world-record efficiencies and can even be integrated into curved and limited-area surfaces. These have been independently verified by NREL as world record holders for both single and dual junction cell efficiencies – 28.9% and 31.6%, respectively.

Alta Devices’ technology also excels under real-world operating conditions, generating electricity under a broad range of temperature and cloud-cover conditions and throughout the day from dawn until dusk. Practically speaking, this means that our technology produces between two to four times more power per unit area and unit weight than all competing technologies. The figure below shows the consistent high performance of Alta’s GaAs solar cells in various environments, compared with multi-crystalline silicon (mc-Si) solar cells.

UAV Solar Panel Performance

The videos below provide more information on our innovative technology and manufacturing processes.

Learn more about our Single Junction Product and our Dual Junction Product.

Solar Technology Application: HALE UAS

To maintain continuous operations, High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAS require a renewable energy solution that is both lightweight and powerful. Batteries alone cannot enable continuous operations. As a result, high efficiency renewable energy sources that can be replenished multiple times, such as Alta Devices’ solar, are needed to achieve multiple week and month-long operation.

Solar cells for HALE UAS

Solar should maximize power while minimizing weight to optimize power-to-weight. Typical low cost commercial solutions, such as silicon, are higher in power, but heavy. Newer and lighter solutions, such as CIGS, are lower in power. Alta Devices solar cells offer an exceptional combination of high efficiency, flexibility, thinness, and low weight.

In addition, the product is highly configurable to meet your physical, mechanical and electrical requirements. These attributes make Alta Devices solar ideal for HALE aircraft allowing them to fly longer, higher, and at more latitudes than competing solar technologies.

Learn more about our Solar Cells for HALE UAS | Open App Brief PDF

Case Study: AeroVironment Puma AE UAV

Solar Puma AE UAS

Alta Devices has worked with AeroVironment to develop a solar layout specifically designed for the Puma; a small, hand-launched military UAV primarily used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). AeroVironment optimized their aircraft for the use of solar and improved their original flight endurance from around 2.5 hours to over 9 hours. With this extended endurance, they can ensure all-day surveillance, helping to save lives during extensive search and rescue missions.

Below is a video of the Puma UAS in flight:

Case Study: C-Astral Bramor UAS

C-Astral is a specialized, fixed wing small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) manufacturer and services provider. C-Astral systems are flying missions globally for border protection, fire control and surveillance operations. The industry-leading BRAMOR UAS family is electrically powered and can achieve superior stability and endurance through its unique advanced Blended Wing Body airframe aerodynamics.

Solar Cells for C-Astral Bramor UASC-Astral’s latest system, the LRS (long range solar), can fly at least two hours longer with the addition of Alta’s solar technology. This new Bramor enables highly efficient and precise global surveying and sensing capabilities in remote and urban areas.

One example application is mapping and surveying of long stretches of road from the sky — finishing the project in only a few days without disrupting traffic; if done from the ground, this kind of work would take two to three months of road closures.

The new C-Astral BRAMOR ppX airframe is made of advanced composite materials (Kevlar/Carbon/Vectran) that provide a high level of survivability. Compared with a standard Bramor, the Alta enhanced LRS version adds less than two ounces of weight, while increasing flight time from 3 hours to about 5.5 hours.

This new system is the leading all-electric, high productivity UAV for global surveying and remote sensing in remote areas (where access to fuel is an issue), and in urban areas (where pollution and noise must be contained).

More information: Solar Power Solutions for UAVs

Read our Whitepaper: Selecting Solar Technology for Fixed Wing UAVs

Read our Whitepaper: Selecting Solar Technology for HALE UAS

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