Online search and services company Google has acquired Titan Aerospace in a bid to develop a solar-powered unmanned air vehicle (UAV) designed to operate as a high-altitude communications relay and surveillance system.

The acquisition was announced on the web site of the New Mexico-based Titan Aerospace on 14 April nearly a month after reporters linked the start-up firm to an acquisition by Google rival Facebook.

“We’re thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google,” says a message mosted on the home page of Titan Aerospace.

Titan Aerospace was unveiled at the AUVSI North American convention last August as the start-up developer of the Solara UAV family.

Two months later, Titan Aerospace announced that Vern Raburn had joined the company as a chief executive. Raburn, formerly chief executive of bankrupt Eclipse Aviation, made his fortune as a high-tech entrepreneur before entering the aviation business, and remained well-connected in Silicon Valley.

Google, meanwhile, has joined an unlikely race among the top online services companies in developing unmanned, autonomous systems. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has discussed plans to use drones to deliver packages to shoppers ordered on the company’s web site. Google is also developing autonomous technology for driverless cars.

Titan officials have desribed the Solara UAV as capable of flying up to 65,000ft and remaining on station for weeks at a time.

The Solara 50 features a 50m wingspan powered by a single propeller driven by a solar-charged, 5kW (6.7hp) electric motor. The solar energy is collected using panels attached along the entire length of the wing, elevator and rudder. It will be launched by catapult and recovered by landing on a carbonfibre fixed keel.

Titan Aerospace’s concept is to replace satellites on localised missions with more affordable and accessible UAVs. As of November, the company was testing a 10m-wingspan research aircraft. The Solara is scheduled to be operational in 2015.