PARIS —Space-hardware manufacturer Thales Alenia Space on April 26 contracted with the French state investment bank, Bpifrance, to build a prototype high-altitude platform for future telecommunications, Earth observation and surveillance missions.
The Stratobus project, which Thales Alenia Space has been designing for several years, has won 17 million euros ($19.2 million) in backing from France’s Investing in the Future public bond program to reduce technology risks over 24 months.
In addition, four French regional governments whose industry will be on Thales Alenia Space’s Stratobus contracting team have committed to another 3 million euros in support.
A subscale prototype of Stratobus will be ready for testing in 2018, with qualification and certification flights of a full-scale version in 2020, according to the program’s current schedule.
Stratobus, billed as neither a drone or a satellite but performing similar functions, is designed to operate at 20 kilometers in altitude. Its solar-electric propulsion system will keep it steadily in place, countering the effect of winds that, at that altitude are expected to be no more than 90 kilometers per hour.
Various companies in the past 20 years have worked on stratospheric platforms, which like geostationary satellites would remain at a constant viewing angle for users but, like low-orbiting satellites, would provide high-resolution imagery and low-latency telecommunications.
International frequency regulators at the International Telecommunication Union have agreed to take a fresh look at a possible global frequency allocation for what the ITU calls HAPS, or high-altitude platform stations, in 2019.
“The new market for high-altitude pseudo satellites, or HAPS, is estimated at one billion dollars from now to 2020, but is awaiting a product,” Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Jean-Loic Galle said in an April 26 statement. “With Stratobus offering a field of view of 500 kilometers, we’re convinced that it will win a large share of this market.”
Jean-Philippe Chessel, Stratobus program manager at Thales Alenia Space, has said in the past that Stratobus would weigh 5,000 kilograms and generate 5 kilowatts of pwer to its 250-kilogram payload. It will be 100 meters long, 33 meters wide and have up to five years of autonomy.
In a feature Chessel stressed as important and uncommon among modern dirigible designs, Stratobus is able to be folded and placed into a 40-foot container for transport.