The European Space Agency wants to get a new type of air vehicle that will be at the basis of the development of a new high-altitude sky exploration platform, and for that, the idea will be to cross the two technologies and enjoy the best of both.
The project is called High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites, or HAPS, is the development of platforms that can float or fly at high altitudes such as conventional airplanes, but with a configuration similar to that of satellites. But they are not in space, and so can remain within the Earth’s atmosphere for weeks, even months, thereby making much more effective coverage of the territory.
ESA is currently targeting 20 kilometers of altitude, which means that it is 10 kilometers above commercial flights and where the wind speed is sufficiently reduced so that they can remain in the same position for long periods of time. They will thus be able to maintain surveillance within a 500-kilometer horizon, allowing for more accurate monitoring and surveillance, communications bandwidth and backup to satellite navigation systems.
There are several teams involved at the moment in the investigation of this possibility, a concept that already has, in fact, more than 20 years, but that now can become reality given the existence of all the equipment and technologies needed at the moment. The miniaturization of aviation equipment, high-performance solar cells and lighter batteries, as well as reduced sensor sizes at lower prices form the ideal combination for startup.
In October a conference was held where the possibility of realization was again proved and a call was also made for the development of a study in this area.
The Airbus Zephyr, which in 2010 achieved a record of 14 days in flight without refueling, was one of the other experiments that took place in this same area. A new version of this Zephyr-T, with more weight capacity, is already being prepared, however, there are other initiatives, such as Thales Alenia Space’s Stratobus, which can carry 250 kg of cargo.