Airbus’ High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) Zephyr drone has beaten its own record for the longest unmanned flight, hovering over the Sonoran Desert in the United States for 42 days.
1. The Zephyr
Airbus’ Zephyr is a super lightweight, solar powered aircraft meant to be controlled through satellite communication instead of needing a pilot onboard. It has a narrow fuselage made from carbon fibre composites, which make it only weigh 75 kilograms.
Despite its fragile looking design, it is made to carry loads of up to 22kg and can operate at altitudes as high as 21,300 m. It can carry optical, infrared, LIDAR and hyperspectral sensors, as well as radars, which make it able to observe a land area of 20-30km.
2. Breaking records
The latest experiment to test the Zephyr’s capabilities was conducted in collaboration with the US Army, taking off from the Yuma Test Range and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge on 15 June. The flight has demonstrated Zephyr’s energy storage capacity, battery longevity, solar panel efficiency and station-keeping abilities.
Being in the air for 42 days, the aircraft broke its own previous record, of just 25 days, which had been achieved in 2018. During this flight, the Zephyr accomplished a number of firsts, including its first flight into international airspace, first flight over water, longest continuous flight utilizing satellite communication controls, and the farthest demonstration from its launch point, while carrying a commercial, off-the-shelf payload.
3. Zephyr for connectivity services
As tests on the Zephyr are proving successful, Airbus has launched a connectivity services business through the creation of a dedicated HAPS Services Business, as a subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space. The aim is to provide low-latency connectivity services from the stratosphere for telecommunications and Earth observation applications.
“Following on from recent successful test flight campaigns, the solar-powered Zephyr has established itself as the leading HAPS platform in the world. With the company now set to offer telecommunications services via its platform, it will play a crucial role in helping to bridge the digital divide through connecting the unconnected on land, air and sea”, Airbus said in a statement.
The company said the Zephyr will allow them to contribute to bridging the digital divide by offering state of the art connectivity services to commercial, defence and institutional customers across the globe.
“Our connectivity services will provide a viable alternative and complement to terrestrial and satellite-based connectivity solutions, allowing for the first time low-latency and direct-to-device connectivity across vast geographies, and economically. Our sustainable technology allows us to save and improve people’s lives whilst ensuring a better outcome for our planet”, said Samer Halawi, HAPS Services Business’ new CEO.