The British Ministry of Defence has bought lately two of Airbus Defence and Space’s Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites.
The Zephyr team of Airbus Defence and Space in Farnborough (UK) is very busy. The maiden flights of the two High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS) just procured by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) are scheduled for 2017. “The design is an evolution of our capabilities demonstrator Zephyr 7,” says Paul Stevens, System Design Authority for Zephyr 8, which is the product name for the capability procured by the MoD.
Airbus Defence and Space’s Zephyr is a new breed of solar-powered aircraft designed to circle in the Earth’s stratosphere, able to launch, land and re- deploy like a hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle while offering consistent, satellite-like Earth observation and communication services – at a fraction of the cost. “It’s eco-friendly too,” adds Steve Whitby, responsible for Zephyr Business Development. “Replacing one conventional unmanned aircraft with a Zephyr would save 2,000 tons of fuel per year.”
The Zephyr has amassed more than 900 flight hours over 11 flight campaigns, survived harsh winter conditions and a flight over Dubai, one of the world’s busiest airports. This makes Airbus DS the only company to have a flight-proven HAPS in its portfolio.
No other unmanned aircraft has ever operated at 70,740ft. And none has ever flown longer in one go than the 14 days and 22 minutes that Zephyr achieved as it circled above the Yuma desert. “Many of us have dedicated more than a decade to this project. It’s an incredible feeling to see it take off like this,” adds Paul.
The new HAPS solar array collects 40% more sunlight and the craft is able to carry 50% more batteries. With a wingspan of 25 metres, the latest Zephyr is larger, but 30% lighter than its predecessor.
In addition, the latest version can also operate beyond line of sight, via satellite. “This means that a crew of five can hand- launch Zephyr from any flat piece of land in, let’s say, Mexico and another crew can collect it in Germany a month later,” says Paul.
Because of Airbus DS’s experience with satellite payload technology, Zephyr can be equipped to perform a whole number of different long-term observation scenarios.
And the story continues…
The Zephyr team is also busy designing a further, twin-boomed version of the HAPS, which will be able to accommodate a bigger payload and will specialise in maritime surveillance.