Sky-high potential for autonomous aerial vehicles that fly in the stratosphere continues to drive investment despite technological hurdles, says GlobalData

The technological hurdles on the path to the widespread deployment of high-altitude platform systems (HAPS) remain daunting due to a catalogue of failed programs. However, the stratospheric potential of HAPS in both commercial, civil, and defense roles is great enough to continue to drive investment, says GlobalData a leading data and analytics company.

HAPS are autonomous aerial vehicles that fly at very high altitudes in the stratosphere. There are three types of vehicles—aerostatic balloons, aerostatic airships, and aerodynamic fixed-wing aircraft—which together comprise the HAPS currently under development. Firms committed to the development of a credible HAPS market segment include aerospace and defense primes, supply chain companies, and communications firms.

GlobalData’s latest report, ‘High Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) – Thematic Research’, identifies the HAPS Alliance as a key driver in the establishment of a future HAPS market. The HAPS Alliance is a forum for collaboration between companies and research institutions such as Airbus (which has developed Zephyr), IntelSat, and AeroVironment that aim to advance the HAPS industry.

Harry Boneham, Aerospace Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Given the nascent state of the HAPS industry, there is a lack of awareness, standardization, and regulations, and this ambiguity could hamper the emergence of the industry. The HAPS Alliance is working to counter this and is attempting to pave the way for a global HAPS industry, which is integral to the global connectivity infrastructure. Alliance members are likely to be very well positioned in the future market they envisage, should it come to fruition.”

A catalogue of unsuccessful attempts despite two decades of research and development emphasizes the difficulty in developing these vehicles, especially since these failures are not limited to small firms and start-ups. Tech giants such as Google and Facebook have both tried and failed to develop a sustainable business model for HAPS, with Loon and Aquila, respectively. However, despite these failures, a small group of companies, including BAE Systems, Raven Aerostar, and Sceye, still see the value in HAPS, both for commercial and defense markets, and continue to invest in these vehicles.”

GlobalData’s report highlights connectivity as the primary value proposition for HAPS in the commercial market, with current applications including connecting rural and underserved regions that lack cellular infrastructure.

Boneham adds: “A longstanding value proposition for the rollout of HAPS commercial communications is in connecting the ‘last billion’. Most unconnected people globally reside in rural areas, and the pace at which people become connected is slowing. This diminishing pace indicates that conventional communication services cannot be provided cost-effectively in these areas.

“Additionally, looking forward, HAPS could be used to boost connectivity in urban areas, and so facilitate the rollout of next-generation technology such as 6G and emerging market segments such as urban air transport.”

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