Aurora Flight Sciences has revealed the design of the aircraft it hopes will achieve the ambitious goals set out in DARPA’s ambitious Vulture program: sustained uninterrupted flight for over five years at altitudes of 60,000-90,000 feet. Known as Odysseus, the solar-powered concept aircraft is as radical as the mission it is designed to accomplish, combining three self-sufficient ‘constituent aircraft’ in a unique Z wing configuration that spans almost 500 feet (150 meters). The modular design provides several advantages – the shape of the aircraft can be adjusted to maximize the solar collection properties during the day and spread flat for aerodynamic efficiency at night-time, when energy stored in onboard batteries is used to drive the aircraft’s electric motors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_motor . Because each of the constituent vehicles is capable of autonomously docking at altitude, the design also facilitates the replacement of one section of the plane whilst it is still aloft, meaning continuous flight can be maintained even if something goes awry.
(via Bruce Sterling)