Christchurch-based company, Kea Aerospace, has started development of the largest unmanned aircraft ever built in the southern hemisphere, with a wingspan of 32 metres and designed to fly in the stratosphere continuously for months at a time.
The Kea Atmos zero-emission aircraft will carry a suite of imagery equipment, improving intelligence for applications such as precision agriculture, disaster management and environmental monitoring.
Its three electric motors will be powered by hundreds of solar cells to collect enough energy from the sun each day to enable it to fly continuously for months. It will fly at 65,000 ft, an altitude twice as high as commercial passenger jets, where there is a relatively calm sweet spot above the jetstreams and turbulent weather to enable smooth, sustained flight.
It is currently prohibitively expensive to get regularly updated, high-resolution data that covers large areas. The Atmos will fly twenty times closer to the Earth than satellites and enables the camera payload to acquire a much higher image quality, without the expense of operating in space.
CEO Mark Rocket says, "Our solar-powered, zero-emission fleet of aircraft will be the perfect solution for smarter decision-making for businesses and organisations around the planet. We will acquire and analyse high-quality aerial imagery data, to provide business intelligence direct to customers."
Kea Aerospace has been accepted into the New Zealand Airspace Integration Trials, a programme to establish New Zealand as location of choice for the safe development, testing and market validation of advanced unmanned aircraft. Dr Peter Crabtree, General Manager of Science, Innovation and International at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, says: "The launch of the Kea Atmos is exciting for Kea Aerospace and for New Zealand. This project has the potential to revolutionise Earth imagery, providing access to higher quality data at a more affordable price point. We are pleased to have companies like Kea Aerospace join the Airspace Integration Trials Programme as we work towards our goal of realising the full potential for innovation within New Zealand's regulatory regimes."
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