It's not quite a plane.
The Odysseus is a high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS), according to its creator, Aurora Flight Sciences. Aurora, a Boeing subsidiary, has developed a solar-powered, autonomous high-altitude aircraft that its "can effectively fly indefinitely."
The Odysseus has a wingspan of 243 feet, a payload capacity of 55 pounds, and can offer 250 watts of continuous power to a payload it might be carrying, such as a satellite. Flying in the stratosphere, the Odysseus can go year-round and "maintain its position in any stratospheric conditions," according to the .
For Aurora's CEO John Langford, the completion of Odysseus represents a personal journey. In the 1980s, Langford was a student at MIT whose interest in rocketry expanded to the concept of human-powered flight. Working with an eclectic group that included other engineers and Greek Olympic cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos, their set the world record for human-powered flight distance that still stands.
Of Odysseus, Langford says in a press statement:
“Aurora was founded by the idea that technology and innovation can provide powerful solutions to tough problems that affect all of humankind. Odysseus was an idea born out of Daedalus that is now a real solution to advancing the important research around climate change and other atmospheric chemistry problems. Odysseus offers persistence like no other solar aircraft of its kind, which is why it is such a capable and necessary platform for researchers. Odysseus will indeed change the world.”
It's a bold claim for the Virginia-based company, which is advertising Odysseus with qualities like the ability to "measure vegetation, ice coverage and flow rates, and even ground moisture." The company also mentions intelligence as a possible use of Odysseus, noting that it doesn't need an operator on the ground to collect information.
The company says the Odysseus will be ready for its first flight in 2019—and hopes that its travels won't be as troublesome as those of its namesake Greek hero.