To boost Stratobus project, Thales Alenia Space takes stake in French airship maker

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WASHINGTON — Thales Alenia Space has taken a “minority stake” in French airship maker Airstar Aerospace with the goal of completing a prototype of its Stratobus pseudo-satellite by 2020.

The investment, which the companies declined to quantify, was announced June 19 at the Paris Air Show.

Thales Alenia Space said in a press release that its investment in Airstar will enable the company to “address certain technological roadblocks on Stratobus” — the autonomous airship Thales Alenia Space has been developing since 2015 to provide a high-altitude platform for satellite-like capabilities including Earth observation and communications. The company aims to field operational Stratobus airships in 2021.

Airstar Aerospace CEO Romain Chabert said in a June 19 statement that his company will develop Stratobus’s custom-designed envelope, including its nose mooring, pressure regulation system and tail assembly.

“We will be using our highest-performance fabric for the Stratobus envelope, the lightest and strongest in the world, a fabric as thin as a sheet of paper capable of withstanding loads exceeding ten tons,” Chabert said.

Stratobus, which will operate at an altitude of 20 kilometers,  is classified by the International Telecommunication Union as a HAPS, or High-Altitude Platform Station (Thales Alenia and Airbus, which is developing the rival Zephyr system, tend to refer to HAPS as High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites).