Electric Power, Electric Vehicles, Innovation, News

British Develop Innovative Electric Spy Plane to Replace Satellites

The British have created and tested a new spy plane, without a pilot, so effectively a drone, with exciting engineering, which could have multiple applications, replacing a large part of the current functions of satellites, at a much lower cost, but at the same time ensuring internet connection in areas of interest or the monitoring of these areas. The new plane flies at stratospheric altitudes, and paradoxically, it is an electric plane, but it has an autonomy of several months!

The plane has completely unusual dimensions and appearance. It has an unusually large wingspan of exactly 35 meters, much longer than its total length. The name PHASA 35 is derived from this dimension, where PHASA is an abbreviation for Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft. Of course, the name also gives us the first clue about how it was possible to obtain autonomy of several weeks of flight — with the help of solar energy. This also explains why such large wings were needed — to have a larger surface for the solar panels placed there, on the one hand, and the other hand, because in the stratosphere, the air is rarer and the wings ordinary ones no longer provide a sufficient lifting effect.

Thus, the basic idea of ​​using the sun’s energy with the help of solar panels is reminiscent of the airship we were talking about in yesterday’s article, which wants to go around the world. There is also a hydrogen installation to store the energy for the dark periods. However, such an installation does not exist on the new British plane. Instead, there are lithium-ion batteries!

Yes, it is the same lithium-ion battery technology that we know from electric cars, and here, they will reach an altitude of over 20 km, up to 40-50 km. Knowing that at 10 km altitude, the temperatures already reach -55 degrees Celsius, we could ask ourselves how these batteries will work even higher. But the truth is that the temperature does not drop much higher; on the contrary, at over 20 km it starts to climb back; therefore at the operational altitude, the batteries will be under less demand. And the creator and supplier of these batteries is BAE Systems. The same company will also supply batteries for the Heart ES-30 electric plane, the first electric plane in the world to carry passengers on a regular flight, about which we previously published a detailed video with its engineering.

Basically, the entire plane we are talking about today was created by BAE Systems and its subsidiary, Prismatic. Those at BAE have immense experience in aviation, defence and strategic communications technologies. Therefore, the new aircraft is a product that encompasses exactly these skills and comes to give a future strategic advantage, both in espionage and in communications and technology.

The plane is super light, weighing only 150 kg, and has a payload of 15 kg. It has two electric motors. And takes off, leaving its undercarriage on the runway. It climbs up, where it can stabilize at an extremely low speed. So small that it can appear to fly in reverse, becoming almost geostatic, that is, following the natural movement of the earth, staying almost fixed above a point of interest on earth.

At that stratospheric altitude, very little energy is needed to adjust the propulsion functions, so the plane produces the necessary electricity with panels, squeezing the surplus into batteries. Since the total weight is only 150 kg, including the carbon fiber fuselage, it is clear that the lithium-ion batteries are relatively small and light.

What can the new PHASA-35 do? It can be a spy plane, effectively, filming, photographing and transmitting ultra-high resolution images with 5G transmission technology on board. The engineers who created it say that this plane’s resolution and capabilities are superior to current satellites, including the larger energy source on board, which can power more powerful video and photo capture technology. And since the drone can stay over a point for months, it can be taught to monitor suspicious troop movements, for example, and anything else you want. Also, it can be moved to another point at any time and operate in a group, with the distribution of tasks in the team.

The advantage over ordinary satellites is not only in the performance of the technology on board but also in the cost of launching into space, which is negligible compared to launching satellites. For satellites, we need launches like those from Space X, which release satellites into the desired orbits. And even though Space X has substantially reduced costs compared to previous disposable rockets, launching a satellite is still expensive. However, the drone takes off and reaches the stratosphere by itself, without needing a rocket.

It will be stationed in the stratosphere, making it relatively invisible and immune to attempts to be shot down. And if it still has such sophisticated technology for receiving and transmitting data at 5G speeds, the last and perhaps the most important effect that the British want is that through which the new drone will be able to work in groups to ensure internet connection for a key area, for defense purposes. And here we remember Space X’s Starlink and note that the new drone will essentially do the same thing, at much higher speed, with dedicated coverage for security purposes, for example. Why would the British or any country need one like this? It’s simple, so as not to be at the mercy of the one who owns the keys to the internet offered by Starlink today. The war in the neighboring country showed how important it is to secure the encrypted Starlink connection in the conditions of the jamming of the GPS signal and the lack of another data connection. Still, it also showed how the success or failure of a country-wide operation can depend on the will or hesitation of a single man, Elon Musk. And a country, or a group of countries, cannot admit that the fate of such technologies is up to the decisions of a single man. So one of the new drone’s functions is to offer an alternative to such situations.

The drone was tested in June 2023, taking off and reaching an altitude of 29.7 km, operating successfully and returning to earth. Now, BAE Systems has received the green light for the next stage of the project, in which it will produce 4 drones for advanced tests, and after that, serial production will follow.

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