A new high-altitude drone could fly for up to one year thanks to highly efficient solar panels and long-life batteries, BAE Systems has claimed.
Designed for a variety of tasks including ‘persistent surveillance’ and providing 5G networks, the Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft 35 (Phasa-35) is being developed by the British multinational and partner Prismatic.
Powered by the Sun during the day and batteries overnight, the aircraft will operate in the upper regions of the atmosphere. It is made of ultra-thin carbon fibre composite material, making it lightweight and giving it high aerodynamic efficiency. The Phasa-35 has a 35m wingspan but weighs just 150kg, including a 15kg payload.
Since an initial collaboration between the two companies was announced in May 2018, engineers have been developing two prototypes, various sensor payloads and operational concepts. The prototypes are now undergoing integration testing at BAE Systems’ Warton facility in Lancashire in preparation for flight trials early next year.
The aircraft will “provide both military and commercial customers with capabilities that are not currently available from existing air and space platforms,” the company said. Alongside high-speed mobile internet and surveillance, the Phasa-35 could provide disaster relief and border protection. BAE Systems predicts it will provide the services “at a fraction of the cost of satellites”.
The company announced an agreement to acquire Prismatic alongside details for the Phasa-35. “Our investment in the company will enable us to take this technology into production, with the very real possibility that this aircraft could enter initial operations with customers within 12 months of flight trials,” said chief technology officer Nigel Whitehead.
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