The HAPSMobile joint venture (JV) between Japan’s SoftBank and US-based aerospace developer AeroVironment has completed the first HAWK30 solar-powered high-altitude platform system (HAPS) test flight.

The flight was carried out at the Nasa Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in California, US.

HAWK30 is an unmanned aircraft designed to offer a high-altitude communications platform. It will be used to provide telecommunications connectivity from the stratosphere as an airborne base station.

The 78m-long HAWK30 features a 260ft wingspan and ten solar-electric motors. It is capable of flying at altitudes of 20km.

Capable of flying at average speeds of 110km/h, the HAWK30 will deliver a telecommunications network to the ground, which is anticipated to use a system that does not interfere with the networks of terrestrial base stations.

HAPSMobile started ground tests of HAWK30 at the AFRC in June. Following the completion of operations at AFRC in the coming months, HAPSMobile plans to carry out stratospheric flight testing at the Hawaiian island of Lanai by the end of next March.

The company is targeting 2023 for HAWK30 mass production and service launch.

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HAPSMobile president and CEO Junichi Miyakawa said: “We were able to see Hawk30 take flight in front of us and witness its grace in the air. We’re extremely grateful to Nasa for their guidance and operational support.

“While this successful test flight represents just the first step, we’re moving forward with tests in the stratosphere and long flight duration tests lasting several months up to half a year. HAPSMobile will continue to work toward its goal of bridging the world’s digital divide and revolutionizing mobile networks by leveraging HAPS.”

Last month, HAPSMobile has joined Facebook’s HAPS flight demonstration carried out in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, as part of a partnership between the two companies to expedite the development and adoption of HAPS communication technologies.