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MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

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ramjet
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Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by ramjet » Thu Sep 10, 2015 9:13 am

Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

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Britain is to purchase three solar powered Zephyr 8 unmanned aircraft from Airbus. Zephyr is unique aircraft that offers a satellite like capability to provide wide area surveillance and coverage at low cost, leading to it being designated HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite) by the company. The aircraft is powered solely by the sun and flies above the weather autonomously for months. Airbus believe that Zephyr fills a capability gap between satellites and unmanned aircraft.

It was reported at the time by many news outlets that the predecessor of the current Zephyr aircraft, the Zephyr 7, underwent testing with the Ministry of Defence in 2014. It reportedly reached an altitude of 70,000ft. It was also the first HAPS to receive a Military Aviation Authority registration, PS001.

The Zephyr aircraft, with its 28 meter wingspan, will be capable of taking a 5kg payload up to a height of about 70,000ft for up to three months, giving the United Kingdom the ability to conduct surveillance at a fraction of the cost of a satellite and for significantly longer than other aerial platforms.

According to the manufacturer:

“Zephyr provides continuous surveillance, communications and monitoring services across areas hundreds of kms wide. Airbus has developed and proven its high resolution imaging and high bandwidth communication services and is developing ever more capable payloads to further improve the range and value of services available. As technology advances, Zephyr can be landed (unlike satellites), re-equipped to take full advantage of the next generation of payloads and re-deployed in short timescales.”

Paul Brooks, Airbus Defence and Space’s head of HAPS business development said:

“Satellites are brilliant at global coverage, but they have a problem with persistence. Aircraft are good for local stuff, but they’re not very persistent and they’re very local. Astrium with their expertise in UAVs and satellites was starting to look at the gap between the two. Meanwhile, Qinetiq had Zephyr, and they were saying, ‘Well, we’re an R&D house: we’re not quite sure how this fits in.’ So in 2013 we took Zephyr into Airbus and married the two together. Basically, Zephyr is a satellite with wings.”

The Zephyr 8 is expected to fly for the first time next year and deliveries are expected to take place within the next two years.
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by Sparts99 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:11 am

5kg payload isn't a lot, camera/sensors, telemetry and comms/control, daylight and clear sky use only as well for visuals I expect as batteries will add to the payload so infra red at night will be tricky. This seems more like a development platform rather than the real thing to me, I could be wrong of course.
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by TonyO » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:07 am

You don't include telemetry, comms and batteries in the payload, the payload is the spare capacity that the system can lift. The UK is buying three of them, so clearly sees some potential in it.
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by baz1 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:39 am

I guess if we purchase them then something is bound to get the chop!??
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by Sparts99 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:22 pm

TonyO wrote:You don't include telemetry, comms and batteries in the payload, the payload is the spare capacity that the system can lift. The UK is buying three of them, so clearly sees some potential in it.
I see. I was wondering how it would fly in the dark as the solar panels wouldn't be charged so that makes complete sense. But even so 5kg isn't a great deal, maybe ELINT only ? A camera that can work from 70,000 ft with associated lens will weigh a fair bit.
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by TonyO » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:27 pm

I was at the same briefing yesterday. Agreed 5kg isn't much but consider the weight of your DSLR and then the size of sensors going in those, but then cut out all the unnecessary hardware. Sensor size and optics can be made very light these days. In the dark it loses about 5,000 ft of height, but always has 50w of power available to power the payload. I suspect it more use as a high-flying communications node or flying mobile cell tower.
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by Thunder » Thu Sep 10, 2015 3:28 pm

No chance in strapping a couple of Storm Shadows under it then :whistle:

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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by thorny1a » Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:50 pm

Thunder wrote:No chance in strapping a couple of Storm Shadows under it then :whistle:
:thumbs: :thumbs: :cool:

With budgets always under pressure I guess this type of solution proves very appealing, wonder if they will be stationed at a specific airbase?
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Davef68
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by Davef68 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 8:02 pm

Much of the R&D cost was provided by the MOD IIRC. They see it as a comms node, in a similar manner to the US use of WB-57s or U2s as relay stations

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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by Sparts99 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 9:55 pm

there's an update on the webpage

**This story has now been denied by the MoD, it would seem that an Airbus official got ahead of himself when announcing this information to reporters.**
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Re: Britain To Purchase High Altitude Surveillance Aircraft

Post by thommg » Sun Sep 13, 2015 7:42 pm

Yes I could see the value as a comms relay. Also perhaps in the ELINT role that was previously the domain of certain aircraft that went round and round at say FL100 or so. I think the CAA would need some convincing from the MoD. Anyway, I'm not surprised it's being denied. I can imagine George Osbourne saying "you want to buy WHAT???"
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MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

Post by welshandy » Wed Feb 03, 2016 7:55 am


grimm6
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Re: MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

Post by grimm6 » Wed Feb 03, 2016 3:53 pm

Has anyone mentioned the likely cost per unit ?

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Re: MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

Post by Jabba » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:21 pm

Probably not difficult to shoot down so very limited use in theatre I imagine.

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Re: MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

Post by EGDR » Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:57 am

Jabba wrote:Probably not difficult to shoot down so very limited use in theatre I imagine.
It's relatively small and flies at up to around FL700, and can stay at altitude for days, so depending on the payload it could have some significant use.

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Re: MOD to buy high-flying solar planes

Post by page_verify » Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:33 pm

These aren't a replacement for existing aircraft, they're almost cheap satellites hence the 5kg actually gives a lot of capability for the types of work they'll do. I also wouldn't worry about them getting shot down either, they're not designed for a role where there'll be in the firing line.

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