NOV 28, 2017 3:04 PM PST

The ESA Wants to Expand Upon its High-Altitude Aerial Platforms

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

If monitoring the Earth from above is on your to-do list, then two of the best ways to go about it are with drones or satellites; unfortunately, each has its shortcomings. Drones can only fly so high, and satellites can only come so close to Earth before they risk tumbling back to the surface.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is actively exploring ways to blur the lines between drones and satellites by looking for the ultimate middleman, and High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) look quite promising.

HAPS could blur the lines between drones and satellites.

Image Credit: ESA

HAPS can fly at higher altitudes than drones and airplanes (somewhere around 12 miles above the Earth’s surface), but the big score here is that agencies can deploy them for a fraction of the cost associated with launching satellites into orbit around the Earth with rockets.

HAPS have other advantages too, like lingering over a specific patch of land for extended periods of time to conduct geographic monitoring, wide-area land surveys, and deploy advanced wireless communications systems with existing satellites.

Related: Why did China keep this massive solar-powered drone a secret until now?

Citing the ESA, the ideal place to deploy HAPS is just above the clouds and jet streams. The lack of wind and activity in this environment means that HAPS would be astonishingly energy-efficient, operating on solar power by day and battery reserves by night.

Zephyr, a High-Altitude Pseudo Satellite designed by Airbus, set precedents back in 2010. That said, the HAPS concept isn’t entirely new, but technological advancements are making these modern marvels more of a reality today than ever before.

“We’ve been looking into the concept for the last 20 years, but now finally it’s becoming a reality,” explained European Space Agency Earth observation specialist Thorsten Fehr.

“That’s come about through the maturing of key technologies: miniaturized avionics, high-performance solar cells, lightweight batteries and harness, miniaturization of Earth observation sensors and high-bandwidth communication links that can deliver competitively priced services.”

Related: DARPA creates an ultra-fast and lightweight autonomous drone

Zephyr was merely a proof of concept with limited applications back in the day, but Airbus and other firms continue to push the boundaries of development on future HAPS concepts that could revolutionize the industry. A few areas of interest include taking heavier payloads into the sky, performing additional actions, and operating for more extended periods.

It seems like High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites might have a place in the future of Earthly observation. It should be fascinating to see how far this technology takes us and how it might benefit science as a whole.

Source: ESA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 24, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 24, 2019
SpaceX's Starship Prototype Explodes During Pressure Test
SpaceX is best known for its Falcon-series of rockets that often resupply the International Space Station and ferry satellites into space to deploy an orbi
DEC 09, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 09, 2019
Astronauts help to advanced personalized medicine
Extreme temperatures and lethal levels of radiation are just some of the hazards faced by astronauts as they traverse the harsh conditions of space. Additi
DEC 18, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 18, 2019
Physics in Peril? (Part II) - Lost in the "Darkness"
Not many share the same antagonistic view with Sabine Hossenfelder, the physicist who associates the current awkward state of physical science with theoret
DEC 19, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 19, 2019
The Science Behind Christmas
The holiday season is upon us, and to wrap-up the year and get you into the holiday spirit, we are dedicating the last infographic to Christmas. After all, what's a better way to celebrate
JAN 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 13, 2020
Lunar Dust is Actually Quite Dangerous to Humans
Most people have a tendency to think that lunar dust isn’t any different than the dirt found here on Earth, but quite the opposite is true. In fact,
FEB 02, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 02, 2020
Everything You Need to Know About Solar Orbiter
The Sun is something you see every day when you look up at the daytime sky, but despite residing right in plain sight, there’s still so much about th
Loading Comments...