New solar plane capable of staying aloft for several weeks have been announced
Airbus has announced that it’s manufacturing a solar plane capable of staying aloft for several weeks at a time. The craft, known as the Zephyr, is a High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS), which Airbus claims will revolutionise defence, humanitarian, and environmental missions. Having been announced at the Farnborough Air Show this year, it’s set to begin industrial production at the newly opened Kelleher facility in Farnborough.
Designed to fly in the stratosphere – above commercial air traffic and weather systems – it’s powered by solar energy and combines the longevity of a satellite with the versatility of a UAV. Two variants are being developed and tested – the Zephyr S and the Zephyr T – each of which offers different payload capacities. The S model weighs under 75kg and is able to see, sense and connect payloads. The T, meanwhile, is larger, reaching 140kg and is capable of accommodating larger loads.
Airbus is looking to achieve a 120-day flight time for the craft – a feat which no doubt ensures the project’s eligibility for an R&D tax incentive, since the latest test saw the Zephyr take to the skies for 25 days. This breaks the previous record for un-fuelled aircraft endurance, which was logged by a Zephyr prototype which achieved a 14-day continuous flight.
Monitoring and connecting
The Zephyr’s endurance is not the only thing being tested. A range of remote-sensing systems are also in development, giving it the ability to monitor disasters and connect those without internet. Unlike a traditional satellite, the craft remains in one region at an altitude of around 21km, meaning it can monitor the spread of wildfires or oil spills, supervise secure borders, and connect isolated communities to the internet.
Flexible and secure
Airbus claims its invention is a flexible option, as unlike with traditional aviation, there’s no need for a runway or airport. Able to navigate to the appropriate region and remain there for weeks at a time, it provides persistent and reliable feedback. A Ground Control Station is all that’s needed to operate the craft, which utilises Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) technology.
It’s also secure, having had military and civil approval from countries in four continents, including the UK and Australia. Such is its versatility and security, Facebook – which recently retired its own similar endeavour, Project Aquila – has begun to collaborate with Airbus in order to enhance the connectivity capabilities of the Zephyr.
Having achieved its record-breaking 25-day flight, the Zephyr is well on the way to becoming a marketable product. Its continued development will entitle Airbus to UK R&D tax credit, which is available to businesses of all sizes and promotes innovation within Britain.
If you’re involved in a similar project that aims to advance humanitarian, defence or environmental progress, speak to an R&D tax specialist today about whether your work is eligible for research and development tax credits. Our professional advisors can help you secure remuneration for your efforts, enabling you to continue your project or fund growth.