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SNC completes high-altitude intelligence balloon trial for UK military

HAB for UK MOD Project Aether
Photo: SNC

US-based defense technology company Sierra Nevada Corporation has completed the first demonstration of the rapidly deployable high-altitude balloon (HAB), completing launch, mission performance and recovery of the uncrewed platform for stratospheric communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

The flight was a critical part of the UK defense ministry’s project Aether flight 1 assessment phase contract.

“We are very pleased with the successful results of this demonstration,” said Tim Owings, executive vice president of SNC’s Mission Solutions & Technologies (MST) business area. “SNC has extensive experience working with researchers and industry on high-altitude C5ISR technologies and this demonstration simply reinforces our commitment to delivering superior development, integration and deployment services to customers around the globe.”

SNC’s flight 1 demonstration launched from Page, Arizona, performing station-keeping missions before transitioning northeast across several states to more urban environments.

The next phase of demonstrations will include a 60-day test flight, the company said.

The HAB’s solar arrays and batteries provide the power needed to integrate larger payloads, expanding mission opportunities and enhancing available mission capabilities. It is also capable of around-the-clock operations, exploiting the natural speed and directional diversity of stratospheric winds. SNC says it performed all stratospheric beyond-line-of-sight operations and recovered the payload for the duration and altitudes set by the Aether program office.

Project Aether will address the UK defense ministry’s need for rapidly maneuverable, ultra-persistent wide area communications and ISR for long-duration missions with minimal resupply or maintenance efforts.

“Our team is very excited to be working with the UK MOD on this project,” said Bill Leonard, senior director of programs for SNC’s MST business area. “SNC has considerable experience with these ‘lighter than air’ high-altitude platforms and collection systems. We are confident that our HAB both meets and exceeds the mission requirements of our MOD customer, as well as other SNC partners around the world.”

SNC is partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation Mission Systems UK (SNC MS UK), World View Enterprises, Inc. and Digital Receiver Technology, Inc. for the project.