Italy's Leonardo has taken a minority stake in Spanish/US firm Skydweller, which is developing a solar-powered high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) system.
Speaking to media at the 2019 Dubai Airshow, Leonardo executives said the company has been working on the project for over a year, which has culminated in the firm becoming the key technology partner and lead financial investor with the acquisition of a equity stake in the firm.
According to Skydweller's chief operating officer and chief financial officer Sébastien Renouard, the company has raised USD26 million at its launch, with 50 engineers already working on the programme. Of these staff, the company has brought in engineers from organisations such as Northrop Grumman's Special Projects group to facilities in Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha in Spain to form an international consortium.
The Skydweller is being developed from the Solar Impulse solar-powered aircraft, with Skydweller acquiring the intellectual property and aircraft for further development in September 2019. The Skydweller system will be able to leverage the 1,250 flight hours that already exist on the Solar Impulse platform and investment in excess of USD190 million that had been raised by the Solar Impulse Foundation to develop the aircraft.
Leonardo's undisclosed financial commitment to the firm will come in two tranches, with the first tranche being paid at the critical design review and being followed by the second tranche after the aircraft successfully passes the first phase.
John Parkes, Skydweller co-founder and chief scientific officer, said the Solar Impulse's key limiting factor had been the pilot, due to endurance and life support requirements.
"Once you remove that pilot, you have plenty of space for applications including geospatial mapping, telecommunications, and ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]," Parkes said.
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