It can’t fight, but it can spy and communicate: this is Airbus’ Zephyr drone, which experts say has capabilities that rival satellites. Airbus’ Zephyr, a solar-powered drone, is flying the nest as the pan-European aerospace company outsources its business to facilitate its commercialisation by bringing in partners, the Financial Times reports.
The Zephyr, which can be used for both surveillance and communication in high altitude, 20 kilometres above sea level, will go on sale officially towards the end of next year.
The project, which is about to become independent, will be called Aalto, and Morgan Stanley has been appointed as a partner, according to the business daily. With its ability to ‘station’ itself in the atmosphere for up to months thanks to its own power generation, the drone – which was test flown in 2017 – promises to be a success, offering high coverage and increasing demand for mobile communications. The drone, which has a 25-metre wingspan and weighs just 75 kilograms, is powered by solar panels on its wings.
Sameer Halawi, who has been leading the project since last summer and has worked for Intelsat and One Web, told the newspaper that their drone is now in the final design phase and can meet the needs of telecoms companies in particular. And since Airbus does not provide telecoms services, the exploitation is being offered to companies interested in the sector.
The commercialisation of drones also requires additional capital, which Airbus is no longer willing to bear alone. The Zephyr Z8 model, originally developed by engineers at the defence company Qinetiq, will use the band between the cruising altitude of aircraft and commercial satellites.
According to industry experts, the drone has two major advantages over satellites: firstly, its operating costs are much lower and secondly, it can be used in a more flexible way, with a greater variety of functions.
According to Sameer Halawi, Zephyr boasts a wide range of communication capabilities, It is ideal, for example, for emergency supplies in disaster areas and, because it is close enough to the ground, it can connect directly with end users, offering better coverage than satellites. In a first round, Airbus intends to establish 5-6 so-called Aalto points from the United States to the Middle East, from where the drones could be launched to scan the earth’s surface.
The Zephyrs have already generated revenue for Airbus, which has sold them to government agencies, including the British Ministry of Defence and the US Army.
The company has ten Zephyrs based at its base in Farnborough, England. Last year, one of their drones crashed after 64 days of travel after a component failed in stormy weather conditions. This failure has since been corrected,” Halawi stressed.