The HAPSMobile JV between Japan’s SoftBank and US-based aerospace company AeroVironment has developed an unmanned aircraft to deliver telecommunications connectivity from the stratosphere.

Known as ‘HAWK30’, the aircraft serves as a stratospheric telecommunications platform system, flying at altitudes of 20km.

With a 260ft wingspan and a length of 78m, the HAWK30 is propelled by ten solar-powered electric motors.

Its ability to fly above the clouds ensures that the aircraft’s wing-mounted solar panels are continually powered by sunlight.

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Flying at average speeds of 110km/h, the unmanned aircraft can undertake continuous, extended missions that can last up to months without landing.

“SoftBank will be able to realise wide-area connectivity that spans both the sky and the ground to enable drone utilisation, as well as contribute to the adoption of IoT and 5G.”

HAWK30 was designed, developed and assembled in 24 months at AeroVironment’s HAPS Innovation Center.

SoftBank has also launched a high-altitude platform station (HAPS) business through HAPSMobile. The new unit will serve as an initiative for SoftBank’s ‘Beyond Japan’ strategy.

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The HAPS system involves an aircraft that can be operated in the stratosphere such as telecommunication base stations for delivering connectivity across wide areas.

This model will allow SoftBank to serve remote areas and locations unserved by telecommunication networks, including mountainous terrain, remote islands and developing countries.

The system can ensure stable telecommunications networks that will be useful during emergencies and natural crises.

In a statement, SoftBank said: “By efficiently interconnecting with current telecommunication networks, SoftBank will be able to realise wide-area connectivity that spans both the sky and the ground to enable drone utilisation, as well as contribute to the adoption of IoT and 5G.

“Since HAPS can provide stable telecommunications networks without being affected by situations on the ground, the technology is also expected to help assist rescue and recovery efforts during times of disasters.”

The company aims to begin mass production of HAWK30 and service launch in 2023.

Meanwhile, HAPSMobile has reached a deal to invest $125m in Alphabet’s Loon, a company that is developing a network of balloons that beam internet access to remote areas.

According to the agreement, HAPSMobile and Google affiliate Loon will jointly establish airborne mobile phone base stations using balloons and aircraft in the stratosphere.

The partnership aims to cover wider areas for next-generation 5G wireless services.