Editorial Feature

Prismatic's Solar-Powered Aircraft and the Future of Aviation

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Image Credit: Krivosheev Vitaly/Shutterstock.com

The UK-based technology company Prismatic Ltd has announced the successful first flight of a solar-powered High Altitude, Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HALE UAV) called the PHASA-35.

Expert in the design and development of innovative aerospace products, Prismatic is dedicated to drawing on its skills and experience in designing and developing UAVs and satellites to improve on current UAV products and services.

Standing for Persistent High-Altitude Solar Aircraft, the PHASA-35 could provide a year-round, cost-effective service across a range of operations, including environmental monitoring, defense, remote sensing, security, resource management, surveillance, and communications to remote areas.

Running on solar energy to power the aircraft during the daytime and to charge batteries for nighttime flying, solar HALE UAVs provide a much more cost-effective alternative to conventional satellite systems. The electric aircraft uses ultra-lightweight solar panels and long-life batteries to power flying operations that can last for up to one year.

The main features of the PHASA-35 are the efficient aerodynamics, propulsion and power systems that keep the solar electric aircraft at high altitude for long periods, while only requiring minimal power.

Prismatic says that the successful launch, flight, landing and overall performance of the system was precisely in line with design expectations. This shows that the PHASA-35 has the potential to provide year-round services for 90% of the world's population and provide global services for major applications such as precision agriculture, resource management, wildfire early detection and mapping.During this first flight trial, which was conducted at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Woomera Test Range in South Australia, aerodynamics, propulsion and power efficiency were all found to meet the full range of function and performance standards. Furthermore, the completely autonomous flight control ensured the robust aircraft landed where intended in the presence of significant side winds.

Video Credit: BAE Systems/YouTube.com

A Collaboration Project with BAE Systems

Prismatic designed, developed and delivered PHASA-35 in collaboration with BAE Systems as part of a joint development agreement made between the two companies in May 2018. BAE Systems is one of the world's largest defense contractors, with its largest-scale operations taking place in the United States and the UK.

Engineering Director for BAE Systems, Ian Muldowney, referred to the results of the PHASA-35 flight trial as "outstanding" and said that to go from design to flight in less than two years demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when the best of British capabilities are combined.

Also commenting on the project, Founder and Managing Director of Prismatic, Paul Brooks,  says PHASA-35™ could revolutionize the way we think about Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) communications: "It's great to have the support of a world leading technology company like BAE Systems. I'd like to extend a huge thank you to the team who have worked tirelessly over the past two years to develop PHASA-35™ as a proven, cost-effective and reliable system."

PHASA-35 Development, Design and Features

Initial flight tests for the PHASA-35 were performed in 2017 and 2018 using a quarter-scale version of the system called the PHASE-8. These tests demonstrated the vehicle's performance characteristics, such as the strength and stiffness of the wing structure.

Following successful completion of the tests and the subsequent collaboration agreement between Prismatic and BAE Systems, the resulting PHASA-35 incorporates a structure comprised of carbon-fiber-composite (CFC) materials and carries a payload of more than 15 kg. Weighing just 150 kg, the wingspan of the vehicle is 35 m. The lifespan of the integrated airframe is three years.

The solar electric aircraft's battery technology ensures an airborne operation of one year before any maintenance is required, and the efficient, light-weight design enables a flying altitude of up to 70,000 ft.

Solar panels powering the aircraft during the day are positioned on the surfaces of the wings to ensure a maximum amount of energy is harnessed and also absorbed for storage in Lithium-ion batteries that fuel the vehicle during the night. Two electric motors paired with high-altitude propellers ensure a flight speed of up to 78 kt. With its integrated dihedral roll rudder, the tail design supports smooth and continuous flight control.

BAE Systems states that, once coupled with other technologies, the PHASA-35 could offer capabilities not seen with current air and space platforms and that it could be used for disaster relief and border protection operations at a significantly cheaper cost compared with satellites.

Applications of PHASA-35

Some examples of PHASA-35's services include:

  • Surveillance
  • Communications
  • Remote sensing
  • Resource management
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Disaster relief
  • Early forest fire detection
  • Improved precision farming

In surveillance, for example, global satellite coverage can be coupled with regional HALE UAV coverage and long-endurance UAVs to provide practical, flexible operations.

Small satellites and regional or local HALE UAV coverage provides rapid and flexible communications that cannot be obtained with existing geostationary satellites.

For environmental monitoring, solar-electric, emission-free UAVs, and satellites that do not need to be launched, operated or recovered in sensitive environments provide the perfect platform.

In regions lacking infrastructure, the deployment of solar electric UAVs to augment satellites can provide information and communications for disaster support.

Wide area surveillance helps identify early signs of forest fires and provide monitoring to support firefighters.

High-resolution, multispectral imaging provides the speed, quality, and coverage needed to enhance precision agriculture, which aims to optimize cultivation by incorporating satellite, remote sensing, and proximal data technologies in the approach to farm management.

The Future of Prismatic and BAE Systems' Partnership

Prismatic will now continue its collaboration with BAE Systems, with the next phase including further flight trials that will enable the evaluation of longer endurance and other payloads.

Internationally, BAE Systems has patents and patent applications for around 2,000 inventions. In partnership with Prismatic, it will provide the technological and project management expertise needed to make PHASA-35™ available on the market.

BAE Systems Air Sector Strategy Director Michael Christie states: "Prismatic is a fast-paced and forward-thinking company and PHASA-35™ is a great example of what the team can achieve in a short space of time.”

Christie continued: "We were keen to invest in the program as part of our long-term strategy to explore new technologies and solutions in air and space. I look forward to working with the team and I'm sure the collaboration will add further strength to both ourselves and Prismatic."

Further tests have been scheduled for later this year, with the PHASA-35 potentially being made available to clients for operations within 12 months of the trials.  

Sources and Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.

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