Christchurch scientists to develop solar-powered aircraft with NASA

Christchurch-based scientists have been awarded funding to develop high-altitude solar-powered aircraft with NASA. 

The aircraft can take better quality pictures than satellites, and Kea Aerospace hope to use it to improve the monitoring of coastal water quality. 

They are solar-powered, graceful and heading into the stratosphere. 

"It'll be used for remote sensing to capture imagery and other data to analyse what's going on below us," Kea Aerospace's Mark Rocket said. 

Flying at around 50,000 ft, they are 20 times closer to the ground than a satellite - providing higher resolution imagery and data. 

"We have huge data gaps right now, we just don't get the frequency or high resolution we need," Rock said. 

Satellites are also constantly on the move, but they can remain in one place for continuous monitoring.  

Christchurch-based Kea Aerospace has partnered with NASA and will be used to gather research to improve the monitoring of coastal water quality. 

He said he's "incredibly excited about working with NASA". 

The light aircraft uses the power of the sun to operate at a similar power to a hair dryer at around 1 to 2 kilowatts. 

"This is one of those really cool new aerospace technologies, it's green in that they're not burning a whole lot of aviation fuel," Rocket said. 

It's one of 12 projects from across New Zealand to receive up to $75,000 from the Government for a six-month earth observation study. 

It's hoped the stratospheric aircraft will help fill data gaps across many other areas like maritime awareness, smart cities and forestry.