Engineering news

Wi-Fi hotspot on the edge of space will beam live video from high-altitude glider

Professional Engineering

The Perlan II zero-emission glider is designed to fly up to 90,000 feet (27.4km) (Credit: The Perlan Project)
The Perlan II zero-emission glider is designed to fly up to 90,000 feet (27.4km) (Credit: The Perlan Project)

The highest ever Wi-Fi hotspot will stream live video and data from a glider flying more than twice the altitude of a commercial airliner.

The feat will be possible thanks to a new partnership between the Airbus Perlan Mission II, a zero-emission glider designed to fly up to 90,000 feet (27.4km), and Thales.

The French multinational will install its FlytLink satellite communications system on the Perlan II, enabling a live stream with real-time data and audio from pilots as it conducts climate, atmospheric and aeronautical research at extreme high altitudes.

The Perlan Project is an international team of scientists, engineers, and aviators. The group has already set world aviation altitude records in the experimental glider, flying above 76,000 feet (23.2km) in 2018.

Applications of the group’s research include informing more accurate climate change models, developing fuel-efficient or zero-emission aviation, and even demonstrating the feasibility of using energy efficient winged aircraft on Mars. 

Soaring too high to use ground-based communications, the Perlan II will be fitted with the FlytLink Thales Iridium Certus based satellite communications (satcom) system, which will provide coverage at all points around the world. Its resilience, high dependability and low size, weight and power make it adaptable to any aircraft, including gliders such as Perlan.

The system will enable a live feed for Stem students, researchers and aviation enthusiasts around the world while the aircraft is in flight.

Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project, said: “By exploring the stratosphere in an airborne research vehicle that creates zero pollution, we hope to unlock discoveries never possible before. Through this exciting partnership with Thales, we also look forward to inspiring new generations of scientists, engineers and pilots in environmentally conscious aviation.” 

“We are delighted to support Airbus Perlan Mission II, because we believe the project aligns with Thales’ own strategies for future, greener aviation and the environment,” said Marc Duval-Destin, vice-president of strategy for Thales’ flight avionics activities.

“We hope that the live stream will encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in aerospace, science and engineering.”

When Perlan II reaches its next record-breaking target altitude of over 90,000 feet, it will be the highest a winged aircraft has ever flown in level flight. Equipped with cutting edge aviation technology and using spacecraft engineering, its glider wings can fly in less than 3% of normal air density at temperatures of -70ºC, approximating the atmospheric conditions on Mars.

“Our equipment will be in an unpressurised environment,” said Duval-Destin. “This is a great opportunity for us to validate the design and performance of our solution in such extremely non-benign conditions.”

Want the best engineering stories delivered straight to your inbox? The Professional Engineering newsletter gives you vital updates on the most cutting-edge engineering and exciting new job opportunities. To sign up, click here.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


Read more related articles

Professional Engineering magazine

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download our Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles