Thales wins HAPS contract from EC
March 14, 2023
By Chris Forrester
There’s growing interest in High Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) which can take the form of very high-flying aircraft or balloons and airships. Thales Alenia Space has won a contract from the European Commission to proceed with development of its EuroHAPS project.
The contract is worth €43 million and will fund a demonstration craft which Thales is coordinating through a European consortium of 21 partners and 18 subcontractors from 11 countries handling the project.
EuroHAPS aims to develop several stratospheric demonstrators for missions designed to improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and communications capabilities. The main project partners are CIRA, Elettronica and Leonardo from Italy, ONERA and CEA from France, INTA from Spain, and ESG with TAO from Germany.
The project will conduct flight demonstrations for three types of complementary stratospheric platforms:
- A reduced-scale Stratobus from Thales Alenia Space, a solar-powered airship designed for long-endurance missions and offering large payload capacity
- A Hybrid High Altitude Airship (HHAA or tactical HAPS) from CIRA, capable of generating extra lift with a wing airfoil
- An Autonomous Stratospheric Balloon System (ASBaS) from ESG and TAO consisting of a series of three, altitude-controllable balloons
These three types of platforms are complementary and feature very different operating times, capacity and operational restrictions. They will give Europe a broad spectrum of solutions to meet a variety of different requirements.
EuroHAPS is reviving the use of high-altitude platform systems for government and defence missions with the support of six defence ministries (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic), the European Commission, the French Sud regional authority and the Canary Islands region, where, in addition to the ones planned in Sardinia (Italy), some demonstration flights are planned to operate from Fuerteventura island, starting in 2024.
HAPS offer a new opportunity to complement ground-based, satellite-based or airborne assets with unique capabilities tailored to operational requirements. The stratosphere is a domain largely ignored until now that supports very-long-duration missions — up to one year — at relatively low altitudes (about 20 km), thus affording excellent resolution for observation missions and robust link budgets for communications missions.
These flight demonstrations of HAPS will allow to demonstrate different platforms, address the main technical risks associated with these new technologies, while refining operational requirements to ultimately enable development of future HAPS systems.