Thales Alenia Space is leading a project to develop StratoBus, a platform designed to carry out missions including observation, security, telecommunications, broadcasting and navigation.
Described by the space technology division of Thales as ‘halfway between a drone and a satellite’, StratoBus would have a life of five years and offer long endurance and complete autonomy from a fixed position.
Airbus Defence & Space, Zodiac Marine and CEA-Liten are also involved in the project to develop a system capable of carrying payloads of up to 200kg at an altitude of approximately 20km, an area in the lower reaches of the stratosphere, but above air traffic and jet streams.
According to Thales, StratoBus covers a range of potential applications, including border and maritime surveillance, boosting GSM network capacity for public events and GPS augmentation over areas of dense traffic.
StratoBus is a high-altitude airship measuring 70-to-100m long and 20-to-30m in diameter and will feature a number of technological innovations. Its power generation system will couple solar panels to a solar power amplification system patented by Thales, and will include also an ultra-light reversible fuel cell for energy storage.
Thales add that StratoBus will require ‘continuous significant energy input’ to offset the wind and that two electric motors will automatically adjust their output power depending on wind speed (up to 90 km/h) to compensate.
Thales believes the first prototype will be rolled out within five years.