BAE Systems

Solar Power Keeps Unmanned Aircraft Airborne

March 16, 2020
The PHASA-35 is a solar-powered UAV capable of flying in the stratosphere as long as one year on battery and solar power as a cost-effective alternative to a satellite.

Satellites are counted upon for many functions, including communications, navigation and surveillance, although they remain in a limited orbital position. In contrast, the Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft (PHASA-35) developed by BAE Systems is a solar electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aircraft with a 35-m wingspan that can remain airborne for as long as a year, with the flexibility to change positions (and views). It recently successfully completed its maiden flight after a design and development effort of less than two years. It was developed in partnership with Prismatic Ltd.

The high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) vehicle is designed to operate in the stratosphere, above the weather and conventional air traffic as a cost-effective alternative to a satellite. It is powered by sunlight during the day and by long-life rechargeable batteries at night. The capability to reposition without a pilot at such high altitudes makes it well suited for unique applications, such as maritime surveillance and forest-fire detection.

The long-flying aircraft could even be used as part of the infrastructure of 5G cellular wireless communications networks. Development of the solar-powered UAV was sponsored by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG). The maiden flight took place at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Woomera Test Range in South Australia, aided by RAAF personnel.

 “This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together,” Ian Muldowney, engineering director at BAE Systems “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 acquired Prismatic during the design and development of the solar UAV as part of the business plan for the project.

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