Solar-Powered Drone Reaches Stratosphere

The electric-solar aircraft is designed for communications, surveillance and security

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

July 18, 2023

2 Min Read
BAE Systems' electric-solar drone
BAE Systems' electric-solar droneBAE Systems

A British-built solar-powered drone has completed its first successful voyage into the stratosphere.

The PHASA-35 drone, which has a 115-foot wingspan, took off in New Mexico and flew to a height of 66,000 feet, meaning it officially reached the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The entire flight, from take-off to landing, took place over 24 hours.

Defense and aerospace company BAE Systems created the solar-electric drone alongside engineering firm Prismatic. The drone is powered by an array of solar panels fitted across its wings, as well as by batteries during the night. According to the company, the aircraft can stay above the Earth’s surface for as long as 20 months.

The aircraft is designed to provide communication and equipment transportation for government and military users during natural disasters or emergencies. It can carry loads of up to 33 pounds, such as cameras, sensors and communications equipment, as well as deliver communications networks such as 4G and 5G.

BAE Systems said PHASA-35 could provide a “persistent and stable platform for various uses including ultra-long endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as security.”

“PHASA-35’s first stratospheric flight demonstrates that this vehicle is on track to become the go-to system for long endurance, high altitude and communications applications in the future,” said Dave Corfield, Prismatic CEO. “The successful trials are a testament to the hard work of the fantastic team that we have built over the last couple of years within Prismatic and across our partner companies including Piran, Amprius, Microlink, Honeywell, PMW Dynamics and the Met Office. I look forward to the next steps as we develop this unique system.”

The aircraft is slated for availability by the middle of this decade, with the recent test the first in a series of planned tests to assess its performance capabilities.    

Plans for the design were first announced in 2017, with a full-scale iteration completing its first flight in 2020 from the Woomera Test Range in South Australia.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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