Pseudo-satellites: The west wind blows afresh

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An article from this week’s Economist, commenting on some of the recent satellite launch fails (SpaceX Falcon 9; Arianespace/ESA Galileo constellation). The article reflects on alternative ‘pseudo-satellite’ technologies, using Airbus as an example, which recently trialled Zephyr 7, a high-altitude “pseudo-satellite” (HAPS). Zephyr is an unmanned, ultralight, solar-powered, propeller-driven aircraft designed, just as some satellites are, to hover indefinitely over the same part of the world.

The article notes that Airbus is not alone in the HAPS game. Google and Facebook are involved as well—and with similar customers in mind—though Google will also be its own customer keeping Google Earth imagery up to date. The article quotes Paul Brooks, spokesman for Airbus’s HAPS programme, who says he does not see these firms as competitors, but rather as collaborators in proving the idea of endurance flight and promoting the changes in regulations needed to permit its safe use.

The article concludes arguing that once this has happened, and the world’s aviation authorities have agreed common operating standards, HAPS could prove ‘a cheap and reliable alternative to blasting things into orbit’.

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