Cloudless climbs to 21km

Cloudless made another flight in an electric, unmanned plane at an altitude of up to 21 kilometres. Cloudless engineers successfully completed a 30-minute horizontal test flight at an altitude of over 13,000 meters.

The Cloudless startup, founded by two Polish engineers, performed another successful flight of a stratospheric UAV at an altitude of over 21 km in mid-December.

After less than an hour of ascent under a special balloon, a large – with a span of 5 meters – UAV was released. During the 2.5-hour flight, environmental parameters were tested, and then a landing was made at the planned location. The winter flight took place with the passage through the area of unfavourable weather conditions, such as icing and strong winds (jet streams). This is the fourth stratospheric exploration flight this year.

During the last flights, components such as photovoltaic panels, a new type of propulsion and new batteries were tested. In the last flight, in December, a test flight was also carried out, which lasted 30 minutes. This test confirms the theoretical assumptions and enables further work to be carried out towards longer and longer flights in the stratosphere.

Engineers also developed a system of stratospheric imaging of the Earth, the result of which are aerial photos (georeferential image data) with a resolution exceeding VHR (very high resolution) satellite imaging. Large-scale terrain mappings (thousands of hectares) can be delivered in one day. It is one of the few imaging solutions in the world from such high altitude using an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The designed UAV also allows placing sensors onboard for measuring the parameters of the atmosphere, e.g. pollution or dust after volcanic eruptions. Thanks to this, it will be possible to conduct measurements in conditions that would endanger conventional manned aviation. There are situations in which the airspace is closed due to volcanic ash dangerous for civil aviation. One such incident occurred in 2010, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted shutting off Europe’s airspace for several days.

Another application of the stratospheric plane is testing solutions intended for the space industry. For this purpose, cooperation has been established with the Polish company Thorium Space, with which the concept of research flights with innovative space telecommunications systems is being developed.

Stratospheric flights will allow for a better study of radio wave interference as it passes through the troposphere – the densest layer of the atmosphere.

In addition to research applications (environmental protection, meteorology, space engineering), Cloudless engineers use it to work on a pseudo-satellite (HALE / HAPS), i.e. a stratospheric aircraft that will be able to stay in the higher parts of the Earth’s atmosphere for a long time. Pseudo-satellites will fill the gap between aircraft and space satellites. Unmanned aerial vehicles powered by solar energy will be able to stay in the stratosphere continuously for weeks and months, and ultimately even a whole year.

Drones of this type are many times cheaper to produce and use than satellites, and they enable, among others, Earth observations with greater accuracy in real time. The absence of most weather phenomena in the stratosphere makes it possible to use 100% of the potential of solar panels.

The plane was completely designed and made by the Polish company Cloudless, it is an innovative research platform on a global scale. The plane has been approved for flights according to the latest regulations of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. Preparatory work was supported by the Institute of Technology and Life Sciences – National Research Institute.

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The Cloudless startup can boast of interesting achievements, so far they have done, among others the highest known flight of a drone released from a balloon at an altitude of 27 232 m above sea level. (on 30/03/2019), horizontal flight in the stratosphere using an electric drive, flight with photovoltaic panels or return to the planned landing sites with an accuracy of several dozen meters. Pseudo-satellite projects have been and are being developed worldwide by subsidiaries of such giants as Airbus, Facebook, Google, BAE Systems and HAPSmobile.