It seems the sky will soon become a little more crowded as renewable energy opens up the possibilities for atmospheric satellites.
The latest contender is StratoBus. Operating at an altitude of about 20 kilometres, the solar powered StratoBus will be able to carry payloads up to 200 kg.
StratoBus’s applications include border and maritime surveillance, boosting mobile network capacity, extending Internet coverage and enhancing GPS connectivity. Unlike Google’s Project Loon, Stratobus will be able to maintain a stationary position.
StratoBus will measure 70 to 100 meters long and 20 to 30 meters in diameter. Solar panels will be embedded in the shell and energy storage will be in the form of fuel cells.
The craft will consume a substantial amount of power in order to stay in a stationary position in an environment where the winds reach around 90 kilometres an hour. Its creators state it will be able to undertake missions a year in duration, with an overall service lifespan of about five years.
While the potential for atmospheric autonomous satellites is exciting, it also raises some concerns about privacy – these vehicles will be able to take higher resolution images than traditional satellites.
The StratoBus project is led by Thales Alenia Space; which has partnered with Airbus Defence & Space, Zodiac Marine and CEA-Liten to build the airship. The first StratoBus is expected to take to the skies in around 5 years.
Thales Alenia Space has more than 40 years of experience in the design and development of space systems and has played a major role in studying the Earth from above it. The company has been the prime contractor for European weather satellites for more than three decades.
Thales Alenia Space recently announced the Sentinel-1A satellite, designed and built by the company for the European Space Agency, is ready to be launched from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
Another autonomous atmospheric satellite in development we’ve looked at previously is the Titan Solara 50.