Stratosphere-compatible high-altitude aircraft, also known as Uncrewed High-Altitude Platforms (HAPs), are attracting increasing interest in research and industry due to their wide range of potential applications.
In contrast to aircraft and non-geostationary satellites, HAPs can be permanently stationed at any location. Unlike crewed aircraft, they operate autonomously – in the same way as satellites. However, unlike satellites, their take-off and landing capability allows for maintenance and changes to the payload. In addition to conventional applications such as remote sensing or measurements for Earth observation, HAPs can enable operations in crisis areas or serve as a hub for communication networks.
The aim of the cross-sectoral Uncrewed High-Altitude Platform (HAP) project is to build up comprehensive system expertise for high-altitude aircraft at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). This expertise should make it possible to develop, build and operate a certifiable overall system (platform, payload, ground station, operational procedures) for continuous operation.
Advanced lightweight construction concepts, miniaturisation in the field of sensor technologies and avionics, as well as further developments in the field of storage technologies, should make a wide range of applications feasible.
In addition to researching the fundamentals and building up expertise, DLR is also working in consultation with regulatory authorities to advance the development of legal frameworks to allow such platforms to be operated in controlled airspace. One example is its collaboration with the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).