Ordnance Survey (OS) (www.os.uk
) and a team of world-leading aeronautic engineers are developing an innovative solar-powered High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) that will change the face of Earth observation and the way the planet can be mapped.
This project, called Astigan, will give quicker and better images of the Earth through a platform flying at 67,000ft — nearly twice the cruising height of a commercial airliner.
The unmanned aircraft, which weighs 149kg and has a wingspan of 38m, can be positioned to view any part of the Earth, and it can collect data over much wider areas than conventional aerial imagery capture.
It has been designed to complement existing satellite services and will fly for 90 days at a time without the need for landing — the equivalent of circling the Earth four-and-a-half times.
Business Minister Lord Henley said: “The UK has a particularly successful track record in mapping and associated technology.
“This exciting project has the potential to support key Government objectives such as upgrading the UK’s infrastructure; it could also benefit emerging technological areas such as smart cities and self-driving vehicles, which both rely on accurate 3-D mapping.”
Astigan has seen extensive collaboration among British SMEs, industry experts and universities since 2014, and it has already completed eight full-scale flights.
It has the potential to work alongside existing mapping capabilities to revolutionise the speed, accuracy and cost involved in mapping a country — providing near real-time information in some cases.
Brian Jones, Astigan managing director, said: “This remarkable aircraft has met every goal and passed all milestones in its ambitious development programme so far.
“We are excited about the year ahead, as we increase our flights and move towards a fully operational high-altitude test.
"By the end of 2019 we aim to be completing endurance flight testing, building up to 90 days non-stop, which is the operational capability that we’re striving for.”