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High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite

  • Context (TH | DH): Scientists at the CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) have successfully tested a UAV called High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) at Challakere, Karnataka.
  • The trial version was a subscale model with a wingspan of 12 metres. It flew for eight and a half hours at an altitude of 3 km above the mean sea level.
  • Whereas the full-scale model
    • will have a wingspan of around 30 metres and a weight of 150 kg.
    • It will be a slow-moving aircraft with a speed of 80-100 km per hour.
    • It will be able to fly for 90 days at an altitude of 17-20 km.
    • The payload carrying capacity will be 15 kg.
  • Several nations and companies are currently working on a commercial HASP, but there is barely any product in the market yet.

About High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS)

  • They are named pseudo-satellites because they perform basic satellite functions, but they do not require a rocket for launching.
    • E.g. they can observe the ground from high altitudes, achieving this at a much lower cost.
  • HAPs are like drones, except that they are expected to be in the stratosphere, well above where commercial planes fly.
  • Flexibility over satellites: They can be easily moved to a location of choice, unlike a satellite, which has a fixed predetermined path.
  • They are powered by solar cells and can fly continuously in the atmosphere for days.

Applications

  • Military: intelligence, surveillance, & reconnaissance (exploratory military survey of enemy territory).
  • Civilian: Can be used as a telecom satellite in times of environmental disasters, for beaming 5G waves and land mapping.

Challenges

  • Overcoming climatic factors like jet-stream in northern parts of the country as well as monsoon clouds since HAPS are placed in the Stratosphere.
  • Solar films used to power the plane are extremely thin. There are only one or two companies in the world capable of making solar-cell films that thin.

Significance

  • The technology is crucial for future air combat, utilising solar energy for day travel and solar-charged batteries for night flight.
  • These platforms are lightweight, remotely controllable, and equipped with communication capabilities beyond the line of sight.
  • HAPS can handle a significant portion of a satellite’s workload at a lower cost and with longer viability.
  • Compared to high-cost HALE drones like the Reaper, pseudo satellites drastically reduce surveillance expenses, costing less than $500 per hour to operate.
  • The HAPS system will be crucial for India’s drone wingman project, which plans to conduct its maiden flight in 2024.
  • India needs more ISR and communication data capabilities, which HAPS can provide.

HALE drones

  • A high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) generally refers to a UAV that flies at a low speed at an altitude of 15–20 km.
  • Under the USD 3 billion deal, the US will provide India with 31 HALE UAVs.

Loyal wingman Project

  • Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is developing the loyal wingman program scheduled for flight testing by 2024.
  • The project is called Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) Warrior and started in 2018.
  • It was showcased at Aero India 2021.
  • The Warrior is an autonomous, unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) with twin engines.
  • It’s designed to operate alongside manned fighter aircraft, protecting them and attacking aerial and ground targets.

About Make Category in the Defence Procurement Procedure

  • It seeks to build indigenous capabilities by involving both the public and private sectors.
  • Make-I projects: it involves 90% Government funding released in phases based on progress.
  • Make-II projects: It requires prototype development funded by the industry. No Government funding is provided for prototype development under Make-II.
  • Make-III projects: It covers military hardware that may not be designed and developed indigenously but can be manufactured in the country for import substitution.
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