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22 February 2016

Two ZEPHYR 8 HAPS to be Built for UK MoD

Airbus Defence & Space (DS) has won an order from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the manufacture and operation of two solar-powered ZEPHYR 8 high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) craft.

ZEPHYR flies slowly and above weather systems, loitering over a selected area under the close guidance of a ground controller to perform its mission. The earlier ZEPHYR 7 HAPS holds the world record for 14 days continuous flight set in 2010 – with the aircraft charging its batteries from sunlight during the day and maintaining its high altitude at night. The latest generation ZEPHYR 8 has a wingspan of 25m, is 30% lighter and can carry 50% more batteries than its predecessor. (Graphic: Airbus)

Flying at some 65,000ft, the ultra-lightweight ZEPHYR 8 is capable of providing persistent surveillance over land or sea, and hosting communications links, over the same area for months at a time without landing. The precise purpose for which the UK MoD will use its ZEPHYRs has not been disclosed.

The latest generation ZEPHYR 8 has a wingspan of 25m, is 30% lighter and can carry 50% more batteries than its predecessor. This enables the ZEPHYR 8 to carry heavier payloads for its surveillance and communications roles. The ZEPHYR 8 HAPS is designed to fly continuously for over a month before landing, being refurbished, and flying again.

As well as for military purposes, ZEPHYRs can be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming, environmental and security monitoring, and to provide internet coverage to regions of poor or zero connectivity. The first ZEPHYR 8 is under construction at Airbus DS’ Farnborough, UK facility and is due to fly in mid-2017.

On 23 November 2015, the UK's Prime Minister already mentioned that the UK looks set to operationally field the Airbus DS ZEPHYR high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Announcing a series of enhancements to the UK's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities during the reading of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in the House of Commons, David Cameron said that the country is to field a, "British-designed unmanned aircraft [that] will fly at the very edge of the earth's atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our forces."

While he gave no further details, the solar-powered ZEPHYR that Airbus DS is developing with the UK MoD under the High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) project is the only platform that fitted the bill. The project, which was begun by QinetiQ more than a decade ago, but later taken over by Airbus DS, has been partially funded by the MoD, which is interested in using the platform as a pseudo-satellite and for communications relay.