Unleashing the power of “Near Space” Craft – the StratoDrone
The StratoDrone is a truly disruptive technology capable of making many spacecraft and many drones obsolete. It looks innocent enough either cruising the skies at 20Km altitude or sitting on station above a single point, but the StratoDrone operates outside of controlled air space, its versatility is extraordinary. It only needs coordination with other aircraft when ascending or descending through controlled air space. It mimics the functions of geosynchronous spacecraft, but communications is simple and powerful at 20Km altitude rather than 36,000Km distances. Communications latency is almost eliminated and StratoDrone to StratoDrone communications can link to a suitable hub, keeping communications fast and direct. One StratoDrone pilot can handle many units, when “on Station”. Sitting still over a site for months requires a “watch keeper” role rather than a pilot role. The StratoDrone is also capable of motoring up to 90Kph and by using the generally opposing winds in the stratosphere and the troposphere, flight times, speed and energy conservation can all be achieved by small changes in altitude. With Artificial Intelligence augmenting control, StratoDrones are the safe and reliable tool of choice for a large variety of operations in remote locations.
Development of our craft is well under way with skins and bladders capable of providing a wide range of possible designs. The concept of the StratoDrone is simple. Float a customer payload of around 150Kg (330lbs) at an altitude of about 16Km to 20Km (10m to 12.5m); add solar power, batteries, communications and flight control ; then add propulsion to 90Kph and you have a game changing machine. The StratoDrone has a rapid change customer payload nacelle. The role it plays can be changes within a day to upgrade technology or to provide new services. It is a truly versatile machine on the design board with an over the horizon view.
The next phase will be scale model flights with 3m (10ft) in diameter Super Pressure balloons. These will be capable of flying to the stratosphere, hovering and then returning to the ground – all under control of the payload. Our civil aviation requirements will need to be passed and I expect that we will have to be able to terminate the flight and the balloon in an emergency.
We will be entering a phase of seeking grants and other government funding as well as sponsors and investment. It is likely that such a massive undertaking will require about US$10M to bring this to completion. Of course a phased funding approach is acceptable over the three year development period.
In Australia Controlled airspace for class A is up to 60,000ft. Our operations will primarily be at 65,000ft (20Km). Higher altitudes are easily achiieved to suit the needs of each country, but more loading of batteries and motors may be required to keep it “on station”.
Airservices in Australia States: In Australia, there are two major types of airspace: controlled, and uncontrolled. Controlled airspace in Australia is actively monitored and managed by air traffic controllers. To enter controlled airspace, an aircraft must first gain a clearance from an air traffic controller. Uncontrolled airspace has no supervision by air traffic control so no clearance is required to operate in uncontrolled airspace. In uncontrolled airspace, pilots are often not visible to air traffic control but must still follow visual flight rules or instrument flight rules. In uncontrolled airspace controllers do not provide separation.
Operations above controlled air space are thus much simpler to plan and execute compared to other drone systems. A StratoDrone still must adhere to basic flight rules at all times, but does need clearance to fly its intended course when above 60,000 feet..It is likely that a group of “on station” StratoDrones” may be controlled by one “on duty pilot, saving further money while not compromising safety.
A few of the easily identified operations include:
- Defence – battle field monitoring and communications as well as enemy communication gathering, over the horizon activities and visual monitoring above most missile capability.
- Border security – either patrolling or or a fleet of “on-station” craft forming a defensive barrier to those entering Australian waters.
- Illegal fishing – monitoring craft operating in Australian waters with visual monitoring or other electronic monitoring
- Communications – useful for remote towns and mining operations. Bringing a wealth of modern communications to towns that have little connected IT infrastructure.
- Fire and Flood – bringing rapid emergency communications and monitoring to an area. This will include live cameras capable of zoom and wide angle views of trouble areas, monitoring of emergency workers and their vehicles and appliances.
- Erosion and farm health. Including coastal erosion by overflying the coastline, Farm health via different camera filters, water, vegetation, temperature, algea blloms. etc
- Animal tracking – via tracking devices fitted to the animal – Marine, stock, tagged crocodiles, visual counts and much more.
- Police – Accident and traffic control.
These are just a few of the possibilities. We are clearly working on technology with huge consequences to the community. Any satellite service that is replaced receives an added bonus. As our StratoDrones are recycled every few months, payload systems can be updated and new technology brought to an area. A satellite cannot bring new technology until the next generation of craft is launched. The cost of operating a StratoDrone is about 1/10th to 1/100th of that of a satellite depending on the type of payload needed.