Airbus will conduct a series of test flights of its solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) from north-west Australia in the second half of the year.
This week, WA premier Mark McGowan announced that Wyndham had been selected by Airbus from one of several sites under consideration around the country. The Premier’s office said the WA State Government had been working with Airbus since February to establish site development at Wyndham airport for the trials.
Airbus’ Zephyr is a solar powered unmanned aerial system (UAS), able to accommodate voice and data communications payloads and operate at an altitude of 65,000 feet (19,800 metres) for between 14 and 40 days. The Zephyr S (single tail) aircraft, capable of uplifting a five kg payload, has been ordered by the UK Ministry of Defence.
The larger Zephyr T (twin tail) vehicle now under development will be capable of carrying a 25 kg payload, which will allow a larger range of sensors to be incorporated, including a nano-radar.
Last year, Airbus Australia Pacific managing director Tony Fraser said the Zephyr S system would be based in Australia for a series of trials on behalf of potential customers, including the ADF, and that Airbus was working with a number of State Governments to establish a suitable location for the trials. Fraser also said that Airbus was looking to partner with Australia on the Zephyr program in the areas of battery technology and laser data link capability.
However at the Singapore Airshow in February, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space Dirk Hoke told ADM that Australia was only one of a number of launch sites under consideration in the region.
The WA Premier’s office said on Tuesday that Wyndham had ultimately been chosen due to the largely unrestricted surrounding airspace and reliable weather. The Zephyr requires relatively calm conditions and a large amount of sunlight, as the air vehicle takes about a day to climb to its operating altitude.
“This is a major coup for Western Australia. I’m thrilled that Airbus has chosen Wyndham airport as the operational and launch site for the Zephyr project,” Premier Mark McGowan said.
“From my meeting with the company in March, I was very impressed with the proposal and Airbus’ international reputation. The technically advanced nature of the project will also help build Western Australia’s profile in the aerospace, defence and innovation spaces.
“The Government looks forward to the operational success of Zephyr and to exploration by both local and other Australian government agencies and companies for opportunities to utilise such HAPS technology to improve economic, social and environmental outcomes in our region.”