Audi e-tron launches a solar-powered aircraft to monitor the weather and collect vital data

New Zealand’s first solar-powered electric, stratospheric aircraft was launched using an Audi e-tron S Sportback. The “Kea Atmos Mk1” from Kea Aerospace is designed to collect high-resolution aerial data to monitor the weather, tree health, and pollution, among other agricultural uses.

Kea Aerospace has been building and flying electric-powered aircraft to collect insights and data to improve life on Earth.

Being solar-powered with zero emissions, the Kea Atmos is the perfect tool for climate change research. The company envisions its solar-powered Kea Atmos giving the complete picture needed to monitor the land, waterways, and coastline in order to protect it for the future.

The Kea Atmos Mk1 is an uncrewed aircraft with a 12.5-meter wingspan and can fly higher than most commercial airliners at up to 50,000 feet for up to 16 hours, weighing less than 90 lbs (40 kg).

Commercial aircraft generally operate at altitudes between 33,000 and 42,000 ft, whereas Kea’s solar-powered aircraft can operate above the weather and jet stream.

Meanwhile, with satellites typically operating at least 20 times further from the Earth, the Kea Atmos can take over 20 times better images with a similar camera.

Kea has been testing electric prototypes for several years. The first (X1) was in December 2021, flying for 14 non-stop hours. Then, in February 2022, the company achieved a 36-hour flight with its X10 prototype.

CEO of Kea Aerospace says it’s been an “exhilarating year,” taking on several flight tests and showcasing the technology to several NASA executives.

Last month, the company launched the Kea Atmos Mk1 solar and electric-powered aircraft using an Audi e-tron to get it off the ground. Check out the video of it below.

The company says future versions of the solar-powered aircraft will unlock higher altitudes with continuous flight for months at a time.

Kea is developing the long-flight endurance Kea Atmos Mk2 with a wingspan of roughly 30 meters that can operate at an altitude of 65,000 feet. The company says it will use the data for several applications, including:

  • Detecting pollution on land and in the water
  • Monitoring vast forest areas and tree health
  • Enabling rapid response and preparation for extreme weather events
  • Developing smart cities with better traffic flow and green spaces
  • Reducing water and fertilizer with precise agricultural tools
  • Monitoring maritime areas to spot illegal fishing boats and vessels