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Zephyr ‘pseudo-satellite' flying military missions ahead of formal entry into service

The Zephyr HAPS is conducting military missions, although it is not due to enter service until 2024. (Airbus)

The Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) has already flown military missions ahead of its formal entry into service, an Airbus official told Janes and other defence media on 12 December.

Speaking at the annual Airbus Trade Media Briefing (TMB) in Madrid, Samer Halawi, CEO Airbus HAPS Connectivity Solutions, said the company had begun flying contractor-supplied missions of the solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), ahead of it being formally introduced into service in 2024.

“We have already been flying missions for the military, and being paid for them,” Halawi said, without naming the military in question. “There will be continued flight trials and customer missions in 2023, and we are taking orders from potential customers for early market entry ahead of the planned entry into service (EIS) in 2024.”

Running exclusively on solar power and weighing only 75 kg despite its 25 m wingspan, the Zephyr is designed to operate at an altitude of up to 70,000 ft, above the weather and other air traffic, maintaining its position over a geographic location. Potential payloads include an over-the-horizon communications relay for line-of-sight communications and high-definition optical/infrared video.

Flight trials were initially conducted in Australia before moving to the US, and while Airbus has been reticent to name its military customer(s), the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acquired three of the type to enhance the country's airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

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