With UAVs crowding navigable airspace and plans underway to put giant mega-satellites into orbit, it was just a matter of time before a drone-satellite hybrid was developed to fit between the two spaces.
StratoBus, a new project out of France, is conceptualized to do just that. Designed to be about the length of a football field and 25 yards in diameter, the blimp-shaped vehicle’s shell will be made of carbon fiber.
Without a launcher, StratoBus floats to the lower stratosphere at an altitude of about 13 miles where developers say it will be in a perfect position to carry out a range of functions, including surveillance, border security monitoring, communications reinforcement and facilitating navigation — all from a stationary position with the help of two self-adjusting electric motors. The StratoBus will be able to endure missions of up to a year with a total lifetime of five years.
The ultra-lightweight design allows for a plug-and-play payload on the nacelle that can accommodate up to 450 pounds. And because the drone-tellite stays closer to earth, it will be able to take higher resolution images and maintain a stronger communications system. It might even be used to boost GSM network capacity during high traffic periods.
StratoBus will have a state-of-the-art solar power system with panels that rotate to maximize sun access coupled with a power amplification system to handle any surges in expended power.
The StratoBus project is led by Thales Alenia Space with Airbus Defence & Space, Zodiac Marine and CEA-Liten, who say they expect the first prototype within five years.