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Solar-powered Airbus Craft Can Fly in the Stratosphere for Six Months

Graham Turner


Airbus Zephyr
The craft achieved 36 days of stratospheric flight, across two 2021 flights, garnering interest from the UK MoD.

The Airbus solar-powered High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) flight touched down on September 13 in Arizona, USA, ending the most ambitious and successful Zephyr flight campaign to date.

“Carbon Neutral”, Zephyr uses sunlight to fly and recharge its batteries, using no fuel and producing no carbon emissions.

Zephyr’s campaign consisted of six flights in total, four low level test flights and two stratospheric flights.

The stratospheric flights flew for around 18 days each in the campaign. This marks significant progress for fixed wing HAPS and is a step towards making the stratosphere an operational reality.

The test’s focus was to demonstrate how Zephyr could be used for future operations, flying outside of restricted airspace and over airspace shared with commercial air traffic.

Carrying an Optical Advanced Earth Observation system for Zephyr (OPAZ) payload, the craft has shown that it can have implications for use in internet connectivity as well as military purposes.


“Working with Airbus and the Zephyr team during the 2021 flight campaign, significant progress has been made towards demonstrating HAPS as a capability. This summer’s activities represent an important step towards operationalising the stratosphere” said James Gavin, Future Capability Group Head at Defence Equipment & Support, the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence.

With its ability to remain in the stratosphere for months at a time, Zephyr – as well as the militaristic implications – hopes to revolutionise disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills.

It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.

Major General Rob Anderton-Brown, Director Capability and MDI Change Programme at Strategic Command added: “Defence investment in cutting edge technology is key to the development of world-leading military capabilities. Zephyr is an important programme within UK Strategic Command and the recent successful flight has required many innovative technical solutions.”

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Graham Turner

Sub Editor

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