A solar-powered unmanned aircraft with a 35m wingspan has completed its maiden flight at Woomera. The PHASA-35 was designed and built in less than two years by BAE Systems and recently acquired British SME Prismatic Ltd.
BAE Systems says this new aircraft could plug the gap between aircraft and satellite technology. Designed to operate in the stratosphere, above the weather and conventional air traffic, PHASA-35 could carry a variety of communications and/or surveillance payloads and offers a persistent and affordable alternative to satellites but with the flexibility of an aircraft. It could be used for a range of applications including bush fire detection and maritime surveillance.
Sponsored by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), the flight marked the first fully integrated flight test of the PHASA-35 system, delivering rapid proof of capability from design to flight in just 20 months.
As a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicle, PHASA-35 is powered by the Sun during the day and by batteries overnight. Its long-life battery and highly efficient solar energy harvesting ystem could allow the aircraft to remain aloft in the stratosphere for up to a year.
PHASA-35 is designed to provide a persistent, stable platform for monitoring, surveillance, communications and security applications. When connected to other technologies and assets, it will provide both military and commercial customers with capabilities that are not currently available from existing air and space platforms, says BAE Systems. The UAV also has the potential to be used in the delivery of communications networks including 5G, as well as supporting other services, such as disaster relief and border protection, at a fraction of the cost of satellites.
Further flight trials are scheduled for later this year. The aircraft could enter initial operation with customers within 12 months of completion of the flight trials program.
BAE Systems’ acquisition of Prismatic late in 2019 forms part of the Company’s strategy to develop breakthrough technologies, making bolt-on acquisitions where they complement existing capabilities and provide an opportunity to accelerate technology development in key areas.