Drone AstiganCopyright of the image
Ordnance Survey

Cartographic Organization The Ordnance Survey plans to launch a solar-powered drone to capture images of the Earth of superior quality.

His Astigan aircraft will fly higher than commercial airliners at 20,000m (67,000ft) and could circle the Earth for 90 days before landing.

It will collect images and data for businesses and organizations.

He hopes to launch "fully operational high altitude tests" by the end of 2019.

Ordnance Survey owns 51% of Astigan, based in Bridgwater, Somerset.

It runs from the same factory that once housed Facebook's internet drone project, Aquila.

Copyright of the image
Ordnance Survey

The space became available after Facebook abandoned its drone plans and the company said there would be no link between the two projects.

Ordnance Survey told the BBC that existing mapping satellites in orbit around the Earth could not provide enough high-resolution detail for its maps.

His Astigan drone is a pseudo-satellite at high altitude. Rather than going around the planet, it will be controlled from the ground and sent to map large areas of interest.

"Our current mapping capabilities are the result of two efforts," said Neil Ackroyd, interim general manager of Ordnance Survey.

"One of them uses fixed-wing aircraft to take pictures as part of our overhaul program. Then we have our field investigators, supported by data provided by the local authorities and the land registry.

"The Astigan project gives us the ability to use planes, but more quickly and at a significantly lower cost."

The cameras that will transport the Astigan machine will be similar to those of mapping aircraft. Ordnance Survey said that it would not be possible to identify people on the images.

"It's hard to see people vertically because you only see people's heads," Ackroyd said.

The drone will be used to collect images and data for use in commercial and industrial applications. It is therefore unlikely that the images appear on services such as Google Maps or Bing.

In addition to United Kingdom mapping, Ordnance Survey plans to provide mapping services to countries that are struggling to pay for them because of their cost or the size of their territory.

The platform will also be made available to companies wishing to associate their own sensors and cameras, for example to monitor the changing climate.