Unmanned Near-Space Flight
To fly an unmanned airship between 60,000-70,000 feet above the surface of the earth has been the challenge of the last 40 years.This area of the atmosphere is a highly desired flight altitude, as it is higher than most aircraft fly and has generally lower speed wind, allowing for an airship to station over a specific area. The requirements of this mission are highly complex and interdependent. Balloons and airships have been identified as primary candidates for the exploitation of this region due to the ease of deployment, relative low-cost and long-term loitering capacities.
Aerostar teamed with Southwest Research Institute to develop the HiSentinel airship, a tactical high altitude airship capable of sustaining station-keeping flight for 30-90 days. In 2005, HiSentinel carried a 60 pound user payload and telemetry pod to 74,000 feet and achieved powered flight for 1.5 hours during a five hour flight. Since this historic flight, additional flights were completed in 2008 and 2010. Today, Aerostar continues extensive development of the next high altitude airship.
Prior to that historic flight, Raven Industries, Aerostar’s parent company, was the first to fly an unmanned airship in the stratosphere in 1969. High Platform II achieved powered flight at 70,000 feet for two hours with a five pound telemetry and propulsion payload.