Airbus Defence and Space has successfully completed the long-endurance flight test of its Zephyr 7 high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) system in winter weather conditions.
The unmanned aerial system (UAS) flew non-stop for more than 11 days with a new primary payload during the trial, which was undertaken for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) at an undisclosed location in the Southern Hemisphere.
Controlled and monitored through satellite communications for the first time, Zephyr 7 also became the first pseudo-satellite to receive MoD's military registration, PS001.
Airbus HAPS programme head Jens Federhen said: "During this most recent flight of the Airbus Zephyr, we successfully demonstrated a number of advancements that are critical to achieving the operational readiness of the technology and that increase its operational value for our customers.
"The use of the SatCom link to control the aircraft beyond line of sight of the ground station is another critical aspect that we needed to test to move towards a pseudo-satellite form of operation where the Zephyrs can be controlled across the world from a central control station.
"We have furthermore reached an important milestone in our regulatory roadmap."
In addition to this, the flight was a breakthrough in terms of proving the year-round capability of the solar-powered Zephyr.
Airbus HAPS programme technical director Chris Kelleher said: "While Zephyr 7 holds the world record for flight endurance and has flown continuously ten times longer than any other UAV, all previous long duration flights have been carried out in the summer months when the longer days, shorter nights and better weather make flights significantly easier.
"This latest flight was undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere winter so the aircraft had to show it could remain operational through the longer nights, re-charge sufficiently in the shorter periods of daylight and cope with the harsher weather conditions."
MOD Defence Equipment and Support Group Type Airworthiness Authority Team source group captain Paul Lloyd said: "This is the first time that the UK's military aviation authorities have expanded our well-proven procedures and regulations into the domain of these novel, long-duration pseudo-satellites.
The information collected from the flight is expected to be used to refine the final design of Zephyr 8, the next-generation HAPS vehicle under development by Airbus.
Initially developed by Qinetiq, the Zephyr 7 is a lightweight UAV that stores solar energy collected during the day, and uses the energy to power the flight through the night.