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  • Persistent Stare From Medium Altitude Next?
    Posted by Graham Warwick 4:26 PM on Sep 15, 2009

    With such strong interest in persistent ISR coming out of operations in Iraq, and now Afghanistan, it's not surprising there is a wide range of unmanned aircraft options on the table, offering different combinations of endurance, altitude and payload capability.

    Aurora Flight Sciences has for some time been working on the Orion, a hydrogen-fuelled, 100h-endurance, 65,000ft-altitude, 400lb-payload UAV, supported by congressionally earmarked funding. But recently there has been talk of a change in direction, and Aurora has unveiled a new version of the Orion here at AFA.

    blog post photo
    Concept: Aurora Flight Sciences

    This is a medium-altitude bird, designed to fly for five days at 15,000-20,000ft, cruising at around 70kt and carrying a 1,000b payload. Whereas the high-altitude Orion was being looked at mainly for missile defense, the medium-altitude version is targeted at persistent ISR.

    In place of a single modified automotive engine burning liquid-hydrogen, the new design has a pair of conventional general-aviation piston engines. Size is essentially unchanged, but gross weight goes up about 1,000lb, to around 8,000lb. 

    A 1,000lb payload capability allows the new Orion to carry a multi-camera wide-area airborne surveillance sensor, or a combination of EO/IR and SIGINT payloads to allow cross-cueing of sensors. In effect, the aircraft could be seen as a persistent, unmanned follow-on to the Air Force's manned Project Liberty MC-12W King Airs. 

    Aurora has struggled to keep the original Orion alive on annual earmarks, but the medium-altitude version is a candidate for a three-year joint concept technology demonstration (JCTD). The company won't comment, but the NRO website lists Orion as a candidate for a Fiscal 2010 immediate-start JCTD, with a decision expected within weeks.

    Tags: ar99, afa09, Aurora, UAV

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