Feb. 8 (UPI) -- China plans to test a large solar-powered drone in the mesosphere between outer space and the Earth's atmosphere.
According to China's ministry of national defense on Wednesday, the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics is to test an unmanned aerial vehicle with a wingspan of about 40 meters, in the uppermost levels of the atmosphere.
Chinese officials said the drone can fly at very high altitudes, is capable of flying for long periods of time and is easy to maintain, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
An airborne early warning and control system can be mounted on the aircraft, and the drone can be used in disaster surveillance, meteorological observation and communication transmissions.
The aircraft can only travel on a designated route at altitudes of 11 miles or lower, but at altitudes above it can roam more freely, thereby enhancing its military value, according to the report.
The drone can cruise at a speed of 90 to 120 mph in the Earth's stratosphere, the CAAA stated.
Shi Wen, a chief drone engineer at CAAA, said the drone is the third most powerful UAV in the world, ranking only behind U.S.-made NASA drones.
In December China's capture of an underwater U.S. drone in the South China Sea caused uproar between the two countries.
China claimed the drone was evidence of massive U.S. military surveillance, a statement that was denied in Washington.