Airbus Defence and Space described some new funding for its Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) project in the UK. The Zephyr is a lightweight, solar- and battery-powered unmanned aerial system. Previous experimental versions have flown above 60,000 feet for up to 14 days. In early 2016, AIN reported that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) ordered two of the latest version for an operational concept demonstration.
Airbus has partnered with four British small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and two universities to help develop key technologies in aerostructures, energy storage, and propulsion for what it described as “the next generation of Zephyr.” The Zephyr Innovation Programme (ZIP) is worth £7.61 million ($10.5 million) including £3.64 million ($5 million) from the UK government. The SMEs are Axillium Research; Formtech Composites Ltd; Productiv Ltd; and OXIS Energy Ltd. The two universities are Cranfield and Newcastle.
Airbus says that the Zephyr offers unique capabilities for Earth observation, Internet connectivity, and maritime surveillance; and that the market for such HAPS is growing rapidly.
But although Airbus confirmed that the first production examples are being manufactured at Farnborough, it did not describe how much progress it had made under the latest MoD contract. The first flight of a Zephyr under that contract was due in mid-2017.