A drone designed for high-altitude communications is getting closer to real use, and HAPSMobile Sunglider has successfully completed another round of testing in New Mexico,media New Atlas reported. The solar-powered plane took off from the U.S. spaceport and reached new heights, and the team is now looking at the stratosphere altitude test run.
The High Altitude Area Platform Systems (HAPS) aircraft is the result of a partnership between HAPS Mobile, a subsidiary of Japan’s SoftBank, and AeroVironment, an aircraft systems developer. The concept was recently renamed Sunglider and is reminiscent of other High Altitude Flying Time (HALE) aircraft, such as Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila drone, which aims to deliver Internet coverage to developing regions but is abandoned in 2018.
Sunglider also gets electricity from solar panels spread over the wings, which are 78 meters (255 feet) long and have 10 thrusters, bringing the top speed to 110 kilometers (68 miles). The aircraft was designed to transport telecommunications payloads to the stratosphere and to fly at that altitude for several months.
In this way, each aircraft could one day connect an area that spans 200 kilometers (124 miles) and connect with other Sungliders to form a larger network that will cover larger areas and serve people in developing regions, the team said.
The first Sunglider was assembled in 2019, when it was called the HAWK30, and the team has since tested the aircraft’s performance through a series of low-altitude test flights. The most recent was on July 23rd at the U.S. spaceport, the fourth trip by Sunglider, which reached its highest altitude to date. This marked the completion of the basic aircraft test by Sunglider, with the team performing flight speed changes, on-board balance control and automatic flight control to simulate safety measures in the event of a ground communication outage.
HAPS Mobile has built a dedicated test site at the U.S. spaceport, which is also home to Virgin Galactic’s business. It plans to conduct further test flights here and move towardthe the height edge of the stratosphere.
“We are very pleased that we have successfully completed all the basic tests,” said Junichi Miyakawa, President and CEO of HAPS Mobile. “This test flight validates our steady accumulation of research, and the elegant flight at the new Spaceport facility in the United States gives us great confidence. Based on the experience and lessons we have learned from these basic tests, I think hapS business is more likely. We will continue to work toward our ultimate goal of bridging the digital divide in the world and revolutionizing mobile connectivity by leveraging the HAPS platform. “
The video below describes HAPSMobile’s vision for the Sunglider aircraft.