StratoBus, a hybrid drone-satellite concept, could one day carry out long endurance missions 12 miles above the Earth's surface. As it navigates the lower reaches of the stratosphere - well above air traffic and jet streams - the autonomous airship would sustain operations of observation, security, telecommunications, broadcasting and navigation.
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Spearheading the project is French-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space, alongside Airbus Defense & Space, Zodiac Marine, and CEA-Liten. The StratoBus, made from carbon fiber and equipped with two motors, is designed to be 230 to 328 feet long, 65 to 98 feet in diameter and carry payloads up to 440 pounds. Since it floats at much lower altitudes than satellites, the airship is expected to capture higher resolution photos and maintain a more robust communications system.
"StratoBus covers a wide range of potential applications, including border and maritime surveillance, boosting GSM network capacity for public events and GPS augmentation over areas of dense traffic," explains Thales' website.
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Developers claim the airship will feature "a number of technological innovations," such as a solar energy power system and an ultralight fuel cell for energy storage. The first prototype is expected to launch in the next five years. To learn more about the project, check out the following video.
Credit: Thale Alenia Space