Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL), which is leading the project, has developed a ‘high-altitude platform (HAP)’, which uses an airborne antenna to provide wide-scale 5G coverage from the stratosphere.
The goal of the project is to deliver an unmanned, liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft, designed with a 56-metre wingspan that will be able to fly for over a week due to its lightweight structure.
Aircraft manufacturer Britten-Norman will be providing key design and trial support for the project, with Marshall Futureworx providing technology for cooling systems.
The contract will see SPL’s 5G tech integrated into a Britten-Norman Islander, with flight trials due to begin in July 2024.
The turbine-powered aircraft, which is a variant of Britten-Norman’s BN2T-4S Islander, has been selected for the programme due to its performance and payload capacity and the ease with which it can be modified to accommodate the equipment. The trial will be conducted under test conditions mandated by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Britten-Norman will operate the aircraft from its Solent Airport aircraft maintenance (MRO) facility, with the mission to be performed over the North Sea. The 5G phased array will be linked via a backhaul link to the Adastral Tower in Suffolk, England, from which the telecommunications and mission equipment will operate.
Garnet Ridgway, a flight test engineer at Britten-Norman, said: “This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the full capabilities of both Britten-Norman as an accomplished trials organisation and the Turbine Islander as a highly capable trials aircraft. Working closely with our partners, the project includes deliverables from our design, manufacture, MRO, continued airworthiness, flight test and flight operations teams.
“The project requires a test platform that can be easily modified – the BN2T-4S Islander has a combination of payload capacity, endurance, climb performance, twin-engine reliability, robustness and electrical power generation that makes it unbeatable for this mission.”
Kevin Bean, SPL’s chief technical officer, said: “We are delighted to be working with Britten-Norman on this programme. The Islander is a great workhorse for this kind of engineering because it can be rapidly and extensively modified to accommodate our equipment.
“The role-based type of mission, which can readily be executed by the Islander – combined with the stability of the platform – is ideal for a programme where telecommunication trials require predictable performance.”
A recent report found that the ‘digital divide’ between urban and rural areas of the UK has been growing, with nearly half of rural deprived areas classed as 5G ‘not-spots’ compared to just 2.7 per cent in urban areas.
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