BAE Systems has completed its Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft (PHASA-35) maiden flight, paving the way for future continuous surveillance technology.
The solar-powered aircraft was developed under the aegis of the UK’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Defense Science and Technology Group (DSTG) in Australia. It made its first flight in South Australia, from the Woomera Test Range of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
BAE Systems claims that PHASA-35 is designed to remain airborne for up to a year as a ‘ game-changer ‘ with the potential to bridge the gap between satellite and aircraft monitoring and recognition capabilities.
Under a partnership between BAE Systems and its subsidiary Prismatic, the aircraft has undergone a rapid design and testing process, going from concept to first flight within 20 months.
The Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft is designed to operate in the stratosphere providing an alternative that is persistent and cheaper than using satellites for the same operations.
“This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together”,BAE Systems engineering director Ian Muldowney said. “To go from design to flight in less than two years shows that we can rise to the challenge the UK Government has set industry to deliver a Future Combat Air System within the next decade.”
BAE Systems ‘ Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft uses solar power for daytime operation, swapping to battery power to stay airborne during the night; a combination that BAE Systems says could allow it to operate for up to one year before landing.
BAE Systems said in a press release that the system was capable of providing a’ persistent, stable platform for monitoring, surveillance, communications and security applications’ which, when combined with existing sensors, can provide capabilities that don’t exist elsewhere.
The Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft can also be used for hosting 5G or other networks, providing a fixed area with network capabilities that might otherwise be too remote to reach conventional communications equipment.
BAE Systems says that it plans to carry out further PHASA flight tests over the next year.
High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicles have received considerable interest, with Airbus also developing a platform similar to the BAE Systems aircraft to deliver the same capabilities.
Airbus completed its Zephyr S High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite nearly 26-day test flight in 2019, which, like the PHASA Airbus aircraft, also uses solar power to operate in the upper atmosphere of Earth for extended periods.