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UK discloses Zephyr-suited payload investment

The UK government’s Centre for Defence Excellence (CDE) is supporting the development of payload projects, which will seemingly be adapted for use on its new Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr high-altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS).

A series of CDE-funded technology case studies were presented by the government on 20 April, suitable for high-altitude aerial platforms and more specifically HAPS, of which the UK is acquiring two.

The UK Ministry of Defence announced in February it had contracted Airbus to provide two Zephyr 8s. The lightweight, solar-powered, long-endurance surveillance aircraft will be used to provide persistent battlefield overwatch.

The projects CDE is supporting include the development of lightweight optical systems, a proof-of-concept foliage-dispersing radar, software-defined laser radar (lidar), an infrared sensor and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) combined with tomography.

Qinetiq has developed a software-defined multi-function lidar system, which can perform the roles of numerous sensors, including 3D imaging, ranging, Doppler and communications.

“The system is very sensitive, making it ideally suited for high-altitude platforms, where the duration of a mission may require multiple different sensing modes, and the platform needs a sensor of low size, weight and power,” the case study says.

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Airbus Defence & Space

The University of Birmingham, meanwhile, is developing a radar that can detect slow-moving targets in dense foliage. The multiple-input, multiple-output Simitar towed radar array can be used on manned or unmanned high-altitude aircraft, the study says.

“Initial work has shown Simitar is not only feasible and operable from a platform as light as a high-altitude pseudo-satellite, but competitive in terms of its performance too,” it adds. “Studies have revealed that the system can detect very slow-moving targets (around 1m/s), in dense foliage, and at stand-offs of up to tens of kilometres. A technology demonstrator has also been built to put the system to the test.”

Last December, Roke Manor announced it had been contracted under the UK’s Defence Growth Partnership to develop a communications payload for HAPS, which considered Zephyr in its design. The beamforming system – which uses 4G cellular networks – is also funded under the CDE effort.

Other parties involved in HAPS and other unmanned air vehicle sensor technology include Amethyst Research, which is creating new infrared sensing capabilities; Spectra Medical – developing a SAR imager for high-resolution data collection; and Glyndŵr Innovations, which is working on an ultra-lightweight optical system.

The developmental technologies are expected to be pitched to industry and investors at a CDE marketplace on 27 April, the government says.

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