Horizon launch fuel cell for sUAS

Aeropak fuel cell

Horizon Energy Systems Pte. Ltd. begins commercial sales of its new AEROPAK hydrogen fuel cell power system, designed to bring a 300% flight duration improvement to today’s battery-operated 5-10kg class Mini-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

For years fuel cell applications have been the subject of research in defense laboratories around the world. Today, Horizon Energy Systems of Singapore makes a significant leap forward by turning their ultra-light fuel cell system technologies into a practical and commercial product ready for use by UAV market participants.

“The AEROPAK is no longer a proof of concept, a bench-top demonstrator, or a one-off working prototype,” said Gareth Tang, Managing Director of Horizon Energy Systems “It is a field-tested airborne system with a high degree of reliability and we are already taking orders from a number of world-leading UAV market participants.”

Horizon’s fuel cell system is entering the market as the most energy-dense electric power system available in the world, ready to power one of the most dynamic growth sectors of the aerospace industry. Worldwide UAV related spending, according to a Teal Group 2010 market study, will more than double over the next decade, to $11.5 billion annually from $4.9 billion , totaling just over $80 billion in the next ten years.

Battery-powered electric motors only allow Mini-UAVs to stay aloft for an hour or two, but Horizon’s new AEROPAK fuel cell power technology enables the same mini-UAVs to stay aloft for 8 to 10 hours at a time without increasing take-off weight. This capability offers the possibility of conducting multiple missions in a single take-off, which reduces casualty risk or the possibility of compromising tactical formations in the field – while saving significantly on logistical and operational costs.

The use of UAVs is increasing because the persistent Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities they bring are unmatched. In the 5-10kg class segment, smaller man-portable mini-UAVs have proven easier and faster to deploy, making them suitable for close range surveillance.

Small enough to be carried in a backpack, mini-UAVS can be assembled in minutes and hand-launched. With constantly evolving new technologies, these small and lower cost UAVs are also taking on increasingly complex missions previously performed by larger and more expensive manned or unmanned aircraft. Over the past decade, hand-launched drones have proven so useful that the US military has bought more than 12,000 of them.

The AEROPAK integrates Horizon’s record-setting fuel cell technology with easy to use dry-fuel cartridges. Storing 900Wh of usable electrical energy and weighing just 4.4 lbs (2kg), the all-inclusive AEROPAK is simple, reliable and can be fully operational within minutes without assembly tools. The long-lasting and non-flammable energy source is packed dry in safe, water-activated cartridges, which eliminate the need for cumbersome battery chargers, or the risk of carrying fully-charged back-up batteries into the battlefield.

For UAV manufacturers, changing to AEROPAK will not necessarily mean changing their aircraft: the miniaturized power system makes it very easy to use as drop-in replacement for battery packs currently in service, eliminating costly airframe modifications.

The future is bright for AEROPAK. In a detailed 11-year world acquisition spending analysis for Nano, Micro, Mini and Close Range Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) categories, analysts at G2 Solutions expects a $1B acquisition market over the next 10 years, and more than 27,000 small UAVs to enter service worldwide throughout the forecast period. The research focused on 98 UAVs from a list of more than 950 drone programs currently taking place around the world. According to Ron Stearns of G2 solutions, “Fuel cells have the potential to improve the Size, Weight and Power configuration for tactical UAV propulsion, leading to increased UAS endurance or expanded sensor and/or communications-relay capabilities.”

Prior to the completion of the commercial AEROPAK, Horizon demonstrated its capabilities through a series of pioneering fuel cell flights, which included HYFISH, a 1kW Horizon fuel cell powered jet-wing UAV (video) integrated by the German Air & Space Agency DLR and the PTEROSOAR development which set a new distance FAI world record in 2007 (video).

Horizon will officially unveil the commercial AEROPAK at the world’s largest UAV tradeshow (AUVSI) taking place in Denver, Colorado, August 24-27 2010. The company will conduct live demonstrations and take production orders at Booth 2828. To book an appointment with Horizon at the show, contact [email protected]