Artist rendering of HAPSMobile’s Sunglider. Source: HAPSMobile.
NASA’s Helios HALE-UAS during a test flight off Kauaʻi. Source: NASA.
SERVICES FROM THE SKY
Next-generation unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operate like geostationary satellites and have the potential to bring a variety of important services to Hawaiʻi that could bolster economic recovery and development.
Called High Altitude, Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems (HALE-UAS), these aircraft could support statewide broadband internet access; storm and lava tracking; monitoring of sea level rise, coastal erosion, coral reefs and invasive species; and natural disaster recovery.
Hawaiʻi is among a select few locations in the world where HALE-UAS could launch and land. HAPSMobile, a joint venture of SoftBank Corp. and Aerovironment, Inc., aims to establish a HALE-UAS operations center on Lanaʻi for its network of solar-powered telecommunications aircraft. The company is developing the Sunglider to provide 4G LTE mobile signals on the ground from the upper stratosphere.
A 300-foot 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 a year.
The company also wants to build an assembly facility where UAS could be deployed around the world. Three aircraft at a time would need daily recovery support to keep the fleet airborne; the average maintenance cycle is 30 days. Such a facility would provide more than 200 jobs in Hawaiʻi.
HALE-UAS would aid Hawaiʻiʻs economy by creating new jobs in information technology, engineering and aviation, as well as vocational programs for prospective workers. The aircraft also provide remote sensing capabilities at lower cost and greater accessibility than geostationary satellites.