Nasa’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC), Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board has given its approval to SoftBank and AeroVironment subsidiary HAPSMobile to run test flights of the HAWK30 aircraft in restricted airspace.

The HAWK30 is a solar-powered unmanned aircraft and was developed to serve as a stratospheric telecommunications platform system.

Capable of flying at altitudes of 20km, the 78m-long HAWK30 features a 260ft wingspan and ten solar-electric motors.

The limited flight release approval means HAPSMobile will be able to perform its first test flight for its unmanned aircraft.

In June, the company started conducting the ground tests of the HAWK30 at AFRC in California.

Following the completion of the test flights and other operational activities, HAPSMobile will prepare the aircraft for stratospheric test flights. These will be performed at the Hawaiian island of Lanai in the 2019 fiscal year.

HAPSMobile president and CEO Junichi Miyakawa said: “We are extremely pleased to receive Nasa’s official test flight approval, which will enable us to take a major step forward to commercially use the stratosphere.

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“We will conduct a test flight rapidly at AFRC so we can prepare for stratospheric test flights in Lanai. We will continue to work toward our goal of bridging the world’s digital divide and revolutionising mobile networks by leveraging HAPS.”

Last month, HAPSMobile joined Facebook’s High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) flight demonstration programme, which aims to advance HAPS communication technologies’ development and adoption in South Africa.

Established in December 2017, HAPSMobile specialises in research, development, operation and management of solar HAPS and network devices.