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Connectivity from the Stratosphere by Airbus' Zephyr


The following post uses a report from ITU news in combination with a presentation from UNESCAP.

Zephyr is an ultra-light solar-powered high-altitude platform station (HAPS). Solar energy powers daytime flight as well as re-charging batteries for night-time operations. It has a 25 metre wingspan (one third the width of an Airbus A380) and can launch from a selection of sites strategically positioned across the globe.

Zephyr flies above the weather and regular air traffic, covering distances of over 1000 nautical miles a day — that’s 1852 kilometres! Of particular interest to telecoms operators is Zephyr’s ability to remain persistent over a designated location for long periods of time, delivering connectivity services across a wide area.

Zephyr weighs less than 75 kilograms, the same as two aircraft seats. It is this highly optimized aircraft mass, together with the available power of the Zephyr propulsion system and the high efficiency of the solar cell technology, which permits Zephyr to remain continuously within the stratosphere after launch, day after day, performing station keeping, mission specific manoeuvres and providing sufficient power for connectivity payloads during service delivery.


On 11 July 2018, a Zephyr S aircraft took off on its maiden flight in Arizona. It flew for 25 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes, marking the longest flight duration ever achieved without re-fuelling. The Zephyr aircraft has also flown in excess of 74 000 feet and repeatedly demonstrated an ability to remain in the stratosphere overnight. These achievements of un-interrupted and persistent flight have proven the readiness of Zephyr as a platform capable of delivering connectivity services from the stratosphere, and are the result of a 15-year journey.

The Zephyr S aircraft that set the endurance benchmark in Arizona was the first serial production Zephyr aircraft. In July 2018, Airbus opened a dedicated Zephyr production facility in Farnborough (United Kingdom), the world’s first HAPS assembly line. In addition, Airbus has established a permanent operations and evaluation facility in Wyndham, Western Australia. The site has been operational since September 2018 and has been selected due to the largely unrestricted surrounding airspace and reliable weather conditions.

(click image to enlarge)

Delivering connectivity

The Zephyr platform provides a unique combination of advantages for the delivery of connectivity services:
  • Persistence: Providing controlled coverage over a designated area. The tight stationkeeping capabilities of Zephyr have been well proven in flight trials.
  • Low-latency: Zephyr is close enough to ground stations to have little latency and offer real-time services.
  • Flexibility: The ability to re-position/re-task the platform after launch. Providing the ability to re-deploy connectivity assets to areas where demand is peaking.
  • Scalability: The ability to add/remove aircraft to adjust the combined footprint of a Zephyr constellation.
  • Rapid Evolution: Aircraft can be fitted with enhanced payload capabilities and returned to service rapidly with enhanced performance/coverage capabilities as technology advancements become available. The same is true of platform technologies which can extend the life and service intervals for aircraft.

Connectivity markets

Configured with the corresponding payload Pod, the Zephyr platform is able to provide a range of connectivity applications: public protection disaster relief (PPDR), emergency communications, theatre backhauling, cellular backhauling, 5G connectivity, direct to device communication and direct to home services. In the near-term, Zephyr will provide cellular backhaul services to rural and semi-urban under-served regions, and where temporary capacity is required.

Some interesting videos from Airbus Defence & Space about Zephyr




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