18 December 2017
Airbus Defence & Space is looking to give its high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) programme a grand prix innovation kick through a co-operation deal with Williams Advanced Engineering; the two companies have agreed to explore potential areas of technological collaboration, especially in composites and battery technology.
Airbus has started production of an improved version of its Zephyr solar-powered, uncrewed aircraft, which in 2010 set a world endurance record by staying aloft for 14 days without refuelling. The Zephyr S has a 25m wingspan and flies at 65,000′, weighing 30% less than its predecessor but carrying 50% more batteries. Williams, meanwhile, is sole battery supplier to the FIA Formula E electric vehicles championship and has some 40 years experience in lightweight materials and structures for motor racing, so the two companies see potential for further improvements to Zephyr or other extreme-performance aircraft.
The UK ministry of defence is buying at least three Airbus HAPS for unspecified uses, and the first production examples are currently being built at Farnborough. Given its altitude and endurance, such a platform offers many of the Earth observation benefits of a satellite while being deployable as needed and easily reconfigured. In addition to military use, says Airbus, Zephyr “can be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming, environmental and security monitoring and to provide internet coverage to regions of poor or zero connectivity.”
Says Airbus head of unmanned aerial systems, Jana Rosenmann: “Our engineering teams are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the Formula 1 world and just as enthusiastic about sharing much of what we have learned in developing solutions to high-altitude, solar-powered flight.”