What makes the Solara actually functional as an atmospheric satellite are two things.
The first is the altitude that it’s designed to fly at: at 20,000 meters, you’re above pretty much everything. You’re looking down on clouds and weather, and the winds and temperatures are generally very stable, or at least predictable. Being that high also gives you a field of view encompassing about 45,000 square kilometers. If you were to, say, mount a cellular base station on a Solara, it would take over for a hundred cell towers on the ground.
The second thing that makes Solara work is that it’s solar powered. Every available surface on the wings and tail are covered in solar panels, and there are batteries inside the wings. During the day, Solara generates kilowatts of power, and there’s enough left over in the batteries to provide hundreds of watts all night. Because the UAV never requires refueling, it can stay aloft for five years, either circling over one spot on the ground, or (if you want it to travel) it’s got an effective range of something like 4.5 million kilometers, cruising at just under 60 knots. And that five year life is just based on components, so Solara may very well be able to stay up for longer.
And that leads to the final thing we like about Solara: you can always bring it back down if something goes wrong. Even if nothing goes wrong, you get your payload back at the end of five years, which is usually impossible with satellites. Solara is also much much cheaper than a satellite, although the company isn’t quite ready to say how much.