A Zephyr UAS is launched. (QinetiQ photo)
TOULOUSE, France, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- A solar-powered unmanned aerial system from Airbus Defense and Space has been flown for more than 11 days non-stop.
The test of the Zephyr 7 High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite, or HAPS, was conducted for Britain's Ministry of Defense in controlled airspace, the company said.
The aircraft carried a new primary payload and for the first time satellite communications were used to control and monitor the aircraft.
"The use of the SatCom link to control the aircraft beyond line-of-sight of the ground station is another critical aspect that we needed to test to move towards a pseudo-satellite form of operation where the Zephyrs can be controlled across the world from a central control station," said Jens Federhen, head of the Airbus HAPS program.
The Zephyr aircraft was developed by the British company QinetiQ and is now part of Airbus' HAPS program. The Zephyr 7 has a wingspan of nearly 74 feet and a weight of nearly 118 pounds when carrying a 5 pound payload. It's service ceiling is more than 70,000 feet.
High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites such as the Zephyr 7, which will fly above lower atmosphere weather condition and air traffic, are seen as possibly filling the capability gap between satellites and regular unmanned aerial vehicles, providing satellite communications and Earth observation services. Airbus Defense and Space has been developing the concept since 2008.
Chris Kelleher, technical director of the Airbus HAPS program, called the flight a breakthrough.
"While Zephyr 7 holds the world record for flight endurance and has flown continuously 10 times longer than any other UAV, all previous long duration flights have been carried out in the summer months when the longer days, shorter nights and better weather make flights significantly easier," he said. "This latest flight was undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere winter so the aircraft had to show it could remain operational through the longer nights, re-charge sufficiently in the shorter periods of daylight and cope with the harsher weather conditions."