The UK’s mapping agency Ordnance Survey (OS) has joined the trend for solar-powered, high-flying unmanned aircraft by working with aeronautical engineers to develop a High- Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) called Astigan.
A full-scale version of the system has already safely completed eight test flights from undisclosed locations. This year will see further flights, with the aim being to complete endurance flight testing by the end of 2019, as the project team moves towards a fully operational highaltitude test.
The OS set up a subsidiary, Astigan Ltd, in 2014 in collaboration with British SMEs, industry experts and universities.
The intention is to develop a costeffective, reliable and reusable vehicle that can carry to high altitude a range of interchangeable Earth observation instruments, such as atmospheric monitoring systems, as well as high-precision cameras, multispectral sensors and telecommunications equipment.
Astigan is designed to fly at 67,000ft and has up to 90 days’ endurance, thanks to the photovoltaic cells across its wings. It has a 124ft (38m) wingspan and weighs just 328lb (149kg), due to its construction from lightweight, super-strong material. It is designed to be positioned to view any part of the Earth to collect data, the idea being that it offers persistence and efficiency that can’t be provided by manned aircraft flying at a lower altitude or space satellites.
For the OS, Astigan fits into a wider objective of leading in the area of geospatial mapping technology and the agency says the platform offers cost and efficiency advantages in collecting such data and using it in diverse applications. These include climate and environmental monitoring (for example, looking at polar ice caps or deforestation), providing early warning, observation and communications over natural disasters and supporting land management and urbanisation challenges.
Astigan is one of several highaltitude unmanned HAPS systems in development, others including Airbus’ Zephyr (ordered by the UK MoD), the BAE Systems/Prismatic PHASA-35 and the Aurora Flight Sciences Odysseus.