Artist rendering of HAPSMobile’s Sunglider HALE-UAS. Source: HAPSMobile.
NASA’s Helios HALE-UAS during a test flight off Kauai. Source: NASA.
SERVICES FROM THE SKY
Next-generation unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that operate like geostationary satellites could provide a variety of important services to Hawaii while aiding the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Called High Altitude, Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems (HALE-UAS), these aircraft are being developed to provide a variety of important services on the ground.
HALE-UAS could provide statewide broadband internet, storm and lava tracking, monitoring for sea level rise, coastal erosion, coral reefs and invasive species, and recovery support following natural disasters.
Hawaii is among only a few locations worldwide where these UAS could launch and land.
HAPS (High Altitude Platform Station) Mobile, a joint venture of SoftBank Corp. and Aerovironment, Inc., wants to establish an operations center on the island of Lanaʻi for its network of solar-powered telecommunications aircraft. The company is developing the Sunglider to fly in the stratosphere and beam 4G LTE signals to large areas on the ground.
A 300-foot tent hangar has been purchased for the Lanaʻi site and the project is awaiting land-use rezoning permits to proceed. HAPSMobile intends to launch up to 1,000 aircraft from Lanaʻi. The company is also interested in building an assembly facility where UAS could be assembled for deployment to other parts of the world.
Three planes would need to be recovered each day to keep the fleet in the air, and the average maintenance cycle would be around 30 days. Such a facility is expected to create more than 200 high-tech jobs to maintain and keep the aircraft in flight.
Bringing HALE-UAS to Hawaii could also support economic development by creating new jobs in information technology, engineering and aviation, as well as vocational programs to train prospective workers. The aircraft can also provide remote sensing capabilities at a much lower cost with greater accessibility than geostationary satellites.