12 October 2021
Airbus Zephyr Solar sets HAPS altitude record of 76,100ft
Airbus says that the solar-powered Zephyr S High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) has completed a successful 2021 test flight campaign in the USA. The final flight touched down on 13 September in Arizona, USA, ending the most ambitious and successful Zephyr flight campaign to date, which achieved record absolute altitude of 76,100ft for this class of unmanned aerial system (UAS).
The flight campaign had a customer focus - to demonstrate how Zephyr could be used for future operations, flying outside of restricted airspace and over airspace shared with commercial air traffic. Carrying an Optical Advanced Earth Observation system for Zephyr (OPAZ) payload, Zephyr proved its operational value to provide instant, persistent and improved situational awareness, streaming Earth observation data.
Picture: Airbus Zephyr Solar High Altitude Platform System (HAPS).
“Working with Airbus and the Zephyr team during the 2021 flight campaign, significant progress has been made towards demonstrating HAPS as a capability. This summer’s activities represent an important step towards operationalising the stratosphere,” says James Gavin, Future Capability Group Head at Defence Equipment & Support, the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence.
“Defence investment in cutting-edge technology is key to the development of world-leading military capabilities,” says Major General Rob Anderton-Brown, director Capability and MDI Change Programme at Strategic Command. “Zephyr is an important program within UK Strategic Command, and the recent successful flight has required many innovative technical solutions,” he adds. “This represents a significant milestone for Zephyr which is informing the development of new concepts and ways of enabling military operations, particularly in the context of Multi-Domain Integration.”
The campaign consisted of six flights in total: four low-level test flights and two stratospheric flights. The stratospheric flights flew for around 18 days each, totaling more than 36 days of stratospheric flight in the campaign. This adds a further 887 flight hours to the 2435 stratospheric flight hours for Zephyr to date, marks significant progress for fixed-wing HAPS, and is a step towards making the stratosphere an operational reality for customers, Airbus says.
“Credible and proven ultra-persistence, stratospheric agility and payload interoperability underscore why Zephyr is the leader in its sector,” says Jana Rosenmann, head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus. “It is a sustainable, solar-powered ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and network-extending solution that can provide vital future connectivity and earth observation to where it is needed.”
Airbus says that such an innovative capability is part of its ambition to rapidly move towards operationalizing the stratosphere. ‘Carbon neutral’ Zephyr uses sunlight to fly and recharge its batteries, using no fuel and producing no carbon emissions.
The firm adds that, with its ability to remain in the stratosphere for months at a time, Zephyr will bring new ‘see, sense and connect’ capabilities to both commercial and military customers, providing the potential to revolutionize disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It also provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.