Airbus unveils pioneering solar-powered drone

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European air giant Airbus on Wednesday unveiled a solar-powered drone called Zephyr that will fly at a high altitude and fulfil the same functions as a satellite.

The project was presented at Britain’s Farnborough airshow, where Airbus revealed that the Zephyr S took off on July 11 for its maiden flight from Arizona in the United States.

“This maiden flight of the Zephyr S aims to prove and demonstrate the aircraft capabilities,” Airbus said in a statement.

During the day, it’s powered by solar energy that also recharges its lithium-sulphur batteries, which then serve as its energy source at night.

Airbus will now be flying Zephyr S from an operating site in Western Australia.

‘This has been chosen as the first launch and recovery site for the Zephyr [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] due mainly to its largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather,’ Airbus noted.

WHAT IS AIRBUS’ ZEPHYR-S ?

The Zephyr S has been built by Airbus Defence and Space engineers.

It is powered by the sun during the day, which also recharges its lithium-sulphur batteries to power it by night. Its huge 22.5m wingspan means it can be launched by four military personnel on their shoulders.

It can fly at an altitude of 21,000 metres above the weather and conventional air traffic.

Another model planned, the Zephyr T, would have a wingspan of 33 metres.

“The only civil aircraft that used to fly at the altitude was Concorde,” as well as the military reconnaissance U2 and SR-71 Blackbird planes, Airbus said.

The plan is for the drones to fly for three months in the stratosphere, with a descent that would last around 30 hours.

British military forces will use the high-tech aircraft to monitor targets on the ground from anywhere in the world.

The Zephyr drones will play vital roles in tracking targets in the ground using high tech antennae and a ‘record-breaking kit’ for high altitude surveillance

The site will be operational beginning in September, the firm added.

In addition to the Zephyr S, Airbus is also planning another HAPS called the Zephyr T.

It would feature a wingspan of more than 100ft, allowing it to carry bigger payloads.

The drones are ‘a mix between a satellite and a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) with the capabilities of a satellite and the flexibility of a UAV,’ Jana Rosenmann, senior vice president of unmanned aerial systems at Airbus, told AFP.

In addition to the Zephyr S, Airbus is also planning another HAPS called the Zephyr T. It would feature a wingspan of more than 100ft, allowing it to carry bigger payloads

In addition to the Zephyr S, Airbus is also planning another HAPS called the Zephyr T. It would feature a wingspan of more than 100ft, allowing it to carry bigger payloads

Elite units will use the camera on the aircraft to monitor ground movement. Its antennae provides a communications platform for the furthest reaches of the globe

Elite units will use the camera on the aircraft to monitor ground movement. Its antennae provides a communications platform for the furthest reaches of the globe

Aside from national security uses, the drones will also be used for maritime surveillance, border patrol missions and forest fire detection, according to the AFP.

If satellites are not available, special forces soldiers will use a control station to fly it over a range of up to 400km (250 miles).

Elite units will then use the camera on the aircraft to monitor ground movement.

Its antennae provides a communications platform for the furthest reaches of the globe.

The drone is equipped with battery technology that saves energy during the day, releasing it at night.

Seven models are planned to be produced in 2018 and seven more in 2019, Rosenmann said.

The drones will have both military and civilian applications, including maritime surveillance, border patrol missions and forest fire detection.

Britain’s defence ministry is the first customer.

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