Thales Alenia Space has started its Stratobus autonomous stratospheric airship research & development project, which has just received approval from the French government’s “investment in the future” program.
The total funding of 17 million euros will cover a 24-month development phase for key enabling technologies, culminating in the construction of a demonstrator.
Additional funding to the tune of about 3 million euros is expected as the project has also won support from four different French regions.
“The new market for high-altitude pseudo satellites, or HAPS, is estimated at one billion dollars from now to 2020, but is awaiting a product. With Stratobus offering a field of view of 500 kilometers, we’re convinced that it will win a large share of this market,” said Jean-Loic Galle, President and Chief Executive Officer of Thales Alenia Space.
“Stratobus is midway between a drone and a satellite, making a low-cost product offering permanent regional coverage and ideally complementing satellite solutions. Using only solar energy and green technologies, Stratobus has a very small carbon footprint – much smaller than that of a small private plane,” said Thales Alenia Space project manager Jean-Philippe Chessel.
A demonstrator is planned to be launched by Thales Alenia Space and partners in 2018, followed by the first qualification and certification flights in 2020.
Market forecasts indicate that less than three years will be required for return on investment, following commercialization of the program.
Stratobus will carry payloads to perform missions such as the surveillance of borders or high-value sites, on land or at sea (video surveillance of offshore platforms, etc.), security (the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, etc.), environmental monitoring (forest fires, soil erosion, pollution, etc.) and telecommunications (Internet, 5G).
It will be positioned at an altitude of about 20 kilometers (12 miles) over its theater of operations, in the lower layer of the stratosphere, which offers sufficient density to provide lift for the balloon.