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Updated December 24th, 2023 at 18:00 IST

India's HAPS prototype achieves landmark flight, paving the way for Stratospheric Operations

Under the iDEX initiative, the drone aims for flights exceeding 48 hours, supported by the Indian Air Force's 'Make I project.

Yuvraj Tyagi
Solar Drone
Under the iDEX initiative, the drone aims for flights exceeding 48 hours, supported by the Indian Air Force's 'Make I project. | Image:X/@joe_sameer
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Bengaluru-based NewSpace Research and Technologies Pvt Ltd (NRT) achieved a significant milestone in India's aerospace ambitions as its solar-powered High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) completed its maiden flight, lasting over 21 hours. The successful trial, conducted during the Winter Solstice, provides a substantial boost to India's plan of deploying long-endurance drones capable of operating in the stratosphere. 

The Winter Solstice trial on December 22 served as a rigorous test of the solar-powered UAV's endurance, showcasing its capabilities in challenging conditions. The HAPS prototype's impressive 21-hour flight sets a national record, emphasizing its potential in stratospheric missions. 

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Under the Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) initiative, NRT, in collaboration with the defence ministry, aims to demonstrate the solar-powered drone's ability to sustain flights exceeding 48 hours. This project, included in the Rs 1,000 crore 'Make I project' by the Indian Air Force (IAF), signifies a crucial advancement in India's strategic capabilities. 

Significance of HAPS in air warfare 

Sameer Joshi, CEO of NRT and a former Air Force pilot, announced the successful flight on X, stating that the next trial is scheduled for the Summer Solstice on June 21. The project aligns with the government's focus on indigenous defence manufacturing, as evident from the substantial funding provided by the IAF.

Defence sources, upbeat about the achievement, acknowledged the significance of HAPS in air warfare. The solar-powered drone demonstrated its versatility by conducting both day and night flying during the trial, utilizing solar energy for daytime travel and relying on its solar-charged battery for night operations. While specific details regarding the altitude of the UAV remain undisclosed, the overarching plan involves deploying it in the stratosphere, approximately 65,000 feet above air traffic. 

HAPS operates exclusively on solar power, offering the advantage of extended flight durations, potentially spanning months. The project addresses a critical capability gap, positioning the drone between traditional satellites and High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs. 

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Military and civil applications 

The solar-powered platform holds promise for persistent surveillance, communication, and specialized scientific missions. Both the IAF and the Navy are actively engaged in the project, signaling potential short-term and long-term acquisitions of this innovative capability. 

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Beyond military applications, the civilian sector stands to benefit significantly from HAPS technology. The drone's capacity for providing telecommunication connectivity in regions with inadequate terrestrial networks positions it as a valuable asset for addressing communication challenges in remote areas. 

Notably, NRT's successful Winter Solstice trial marks a noteworthy step in India's quest for advanced aerial capabilities. The HAPS project, supported by iDEX and the IAF, reflects the country's commitment to self-reliance in defence technologies with potential applications extending beyond strategic interests. 

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Published December 24th, 2023 at 18:00 IST

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