Kea Aerospace debuts solar-powered stratospheric UAS with Audi EV technology

The New Zealand-based company Kea Aerospace has developed an innovative solar-powered stratospheric aircraft, called the Kea Atmos Mk 1, which is designed for high-altitude flight testing. The aircraft has a wingspan of 12.5 meters and weighs under 40 kilograms, making it lightweight enough to fly at altitudes higher than commercial airliners, up to 50,000 feet. To launch the Kea Atmos Mk 1, Kea Aerospace is using an Audi e-tron Sportback electric vehicle, which provides the necessary power to get the aircraft off the ground.

According to Kea Aerospace CEO Mark Rocket, the company has been building and testing a range of electric-powered aircraft and high-altitude balloons as part of its program to build a global fleet of solar-powered uncrewed aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere for months at a time. The X10 aircraft, which Kea Aerospace flew in February 2022 for 36 hours non-stop, proved the perpetual flight capability at low altitudes.

Each Kea Atmos Mk 1 aircraft will carry a suite of advanced aerial imagery equipment that offers game-changing advances for many industries, including environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management, and maritime awareness. The data collected by the aircraft will vastly improve the quality of information available for these activities.

Rocket noted that the Kea Atmos Mk 1 is the first solar-powered stratospheric aircraft designed and built in the Southern Hemisphere. It is an incredible challenge to make the aircraft as lightweight as possible to fly in less than 10% of the air density we have at sea level while also ensuring it is tough enough to handle flying through the fast jet streams. Kea Aerospace plans to conduct high-altitude test flights of the Kea Atmos Mk 1 later this year, taking off from Tāwhaki, on the Kaitorete Spit, located around 50 kilometers south of Christchurch.

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