Mapping organization Ordnance Survey plans to launch a solar-powered drone to capture higher quality images of the Earth.
Its Astigan craft will fly higher than commercial airliners at 67,000 ft (20,400m), and could circle the Earth for 90 days before it needs to land.
It hopes to launch “fully operational high-altitude tests” of the craft before the end of 2019 and will collect images and data for businesses and organizations to use.
The space became available after Facebook abandoned its drone plans; Ordnance Survey told the BBC that the existing mapping satellites orbiting the Earth cannot provide enough high resolution detail for its maps. Rather than circling the planet, it will be controlled from the ground and sent to map large areas of interest.
The acting chief executive of Ordnance Survey Neil Ackroyd explained their mapping capabilities are driven by two efforts,” “One is using fixed-wing aircraft to take photos for our revision programme. Then we have our field surveyors on the ground, supported by data from local authorities and the land registry.
The platform will also be made available to companies who want to attach their own sensors and cameras, for example to track climate change.