CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - The Kea Atmos Mk 1 uncrewed aircraft has taken flight from the top of an Audi e-tron Sportback electric vehicle, according to the aircraft's manufacturer, Kea Aerospace in Christchurch, New Zealand. The stratospheric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been designed to be used for stratospheric flight testing. It has a wingspan of 12.5 meters, weighs under 40 kilograms and will fly at altitudes up to 50,000 feet.
Kea Aerospace has been building and flying a range of electric-powered aircraft and high-altitude balloons as part of its program to build a global fleet of solar-powered uncrewed aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere for months at a time. Their X10 aircraft flew in February 2022 for 36 hours non-stop and proved perpetual flight capability at low altitudes. Each aircraft will carry a suite of aerial imagery equipment to collect data for many industries including environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management and maritime awareness.
"It's an exhilarating year for the company as we undertake a range of challenging flight tests on our journey to the stratosphere. It was an absolute thrill to show the Kea Atmos Mk1 aircraft to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy last month and we look forward to working with a wide range of international aerospace participants", CEO of Kea Aerospace, Mark Rocket says. "The Kea Atmos is the first solar-powered stratospheric aircraft designed and built in the Southern Hemisphere. It's an incredible challenge to make the aircraft as lightweight as possible to fly in less than 10% of the air density we have at sea level, but at the same time it has to be tough enough to handle flying through the fast jet streams.
High altitude flights are planned this year to take-off from Tāwhaki, on the Kaitorete Spit, located around 50 kilometers south of Christchurch.