PHASA-35 solar electric UAV

Marathon flight-time solar UAV announced by all-British partnership

Image credit: Prismatic/BAE Systems

A new solar electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), with the potential to remain airborne for up to a year between maintenance checks, has been announced following an agreement between two British companies, BAE Systems and Prismatic.

Engineers from Farnborough-based Prismatic and BAE Systems will collaborate on the development of the new solar-powered High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) UAV known as PHASA-35. Work is already underway to prepare the first aircraft to be ready for flight tests in 2019.

The technology would offer a year-round, low-cost persistent service for a wide range of needs – e.g. surveillance and vital communications to remote areas – using only the Sun to power the aircraft during the day and recharge the batteries for overnight operation.

Solar HALE vehicles offer a significantly cheaper alternative to conventional satellite technology, with PHASA-35 (PHASA standing for Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft) being a concept solar electric UAV that uses proven, long-life battery technology and ultra-lightweight solar cells to potentially maintain flight for up to 12 months.

The PHASA-35 concept has a 35-metre wingspan and weighs only 150kg. The lightweight, efficient build allows it to fly at high altitudes for long periods of time.

A quarter-scale model (named PHASE-8) completed a successful maiden flight in 2017, with Prismatic Ltd and BAE Systems now looking to take the technology a step further.

Paul Brooks, founder and managing director of Prismatic Ltd, said: “PHASA-35 has the ability to revolutionise the way we think about ‘beyond line of sight’ communications. It’s great to have the support of a world-leading technology company like BAE Systems.”

Michael Christie, strategy director within BAE Systems’ Air sector, said: “PHASA-35 is a great example of what the team can achieve in a short space of time. We were keen to invest in the programme as part of our long-term strategy to explore new technologies and solutions in air and space.”

BAE Systems will invest in the development and flight testing of the PHASA-35 system as part of its drive to continually develop new technologies to support aircraft of the future, working collaboratively with SMEs and academia.

BAE Systems has a portfolio of patents and patent applications covering approximately 2,000 inventions internationally. Under the agreement with Prismatic, BAE will provide expertise in aerospace technology and project management to progress the PHASA-35 programme through to a marketable offering.

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