The goal of DARPA's Very-high altitude, Ultra-endurance, Loitering Theater Unmanned Reconnaissance Element (VULTURE) program is to develop a high altitude, long endurance (multi-month) unmanned aircraft to perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communication missions over an area of interest. The enabling technologies are solar collection, dense and efficient energy storage, and improved reliability for components, and lightweight structures. VULTURE, in effect, will be a retaskable, persistent satellite capability, in an aircraft package.
The Vulture program will conduct a subscale three-month flight demonstration to prove out critical technologies. Subsequently, the program will conclude with a year-long flight demonstration with a fully functional payload. The anticipated transition partner is the Air Force.
The Vulture program will develop and demonstrate technology enabling an airplane to maintain a payload on-station for more than five years, combining the benefits of satellites with the capabilities of airplanes. The objective of the Vulture program is to develop and demonstrate the technology to enable an airborne payload to remain on-station uninterrupted for over five years performing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and communication missions over an area of interest.
Vulture technology enables a re-taskable, persistent pseudo-satellite capability, in an aircraft package. The technology combines the key benefits of an aircraft (flexibility & responsiveness, sensor resolution, reduced transmit/receive power, affordability) with the benefits of space assets (on-station persistence, no logistics tail, energy independence, fleet size, absence of in-country footprint).
The system has potential in numerous roles: operation as a single platform, as a formation of multiple aircraft, or as a constellation providing infrastructure augmentation or recovery. The technology challenges include developing energy management and reliability technologies capable of allowing the aircraft to operate continuously for five years. The Vulture program will conduct subscale and full-scale technology maturation and demonstration activities to prove out critical technologies. Subsequently, the program will conclude with a flight demonstration near full-scale.
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