Advertisement

The European Space Agency has released several concepts for High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), platforms which float in the upper atmosphere for long periods of time. The agency calls them “a ‘missing link’ between drones and satellites.”

These could be used to provide high-resolution coverage in highly populated or difficult-to-reach areas, cover blind spots in satellite coverage, or improve signal delay times for wide bandwidth communications.

The Zephyr plane developed by Airbus fills the “missing link” niche and in 2010 held a world record of 14 days of continuous flight without stopping to refuel. Image credit: Airbus via ESA

“We’ve been looking into the concept for the last 20 years but now finally it’s becoming reality,” said Earth Observation Specialist Thorsten Fehr in a press release. “That’s come about through the maturing of key technologies: miniaturized avionics, high-performance solar cells, lightweight batteries and harness, miniaturization of Earth observation sensors, and high-bandwidth communication links that can deliver competitively priced services.”

The blimp-like Stratobus concept, developed by Thales Alenia Space, uses electric engines and fuel cells to carry up to 250 kilograms (551 pounds) in the upper atmosphere. A test flight is expected to take place in 2021. Image credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot via ESA
Advertisement
Advertisement