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Solar UAS innovations are increasingly applied to long-term missions. A new joint venture will fund the development and production of solar-powered high-altitude unmanned aircraft systems was recently formed. This category of long-endurance, or HALE, UAS for commercial operations is also referred to as high-altitude pseudo-satellites, or HAPS.

AeroVironment, a UAS manufacturer for both defense and commercial applications, will design and develop the solar aircraft and ground control stations for flight testing and certification. The net value of the development contract is $65 million.

The joint venture, HAPSMobile, is a Japanese corporation that is 95 percent funded and owned by Japan-based telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp. and 5 percent funded and owned by AeroVironment.

“For many years, we have fully understood the incredible value high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft platforms could deliver to countless organizations and millions of people around the world through remote sensing and last mile, next generation IoT connectivity,” said Wahid Nawabi, AeroVironment chief executive officer. “We were searching for the right strategic partner to pursue this very large global opportunity with us. Now we believe we are extremely well-positioned to build on the decades of successful development we have performed to translate our solar UAS innovations into long-term value through HAPSMobile.”

AeroVironment pioneered the concept of high-altitude solar-powered UAS in the 1980s, and developed and demonstrated multiple systems for NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology, or ERAST program.

Multiple United States government agencies funded the development of the hybrid-electric Global Observer unmanned aircraft system from 2007 through 2011.Global Observer represents a solution for extended operation over high Northern and Southern latitudes during local winters, when the sun’s energy is insufficient to maintain continuous solar aircraft operation at high altitude.