Put on a severe financial diet for the past two years by Thales Alenia Space (TAS) chief executive Hervé Derrey, the Stratobus program bounced back in extremis this summer thanks to the European Defense Fund (EDF). The Directorate General for Defense and Space Industry (DG DEFI) of the European Commission has entrusted TAS, as coordinator of a consortium of 21 European companies of 11 different nationalities, with a technology demonstration in the design of three high-rise platforms (EuroHAPS). TAS will provide technology bricks through its Stratobus project.
Aid of about 80 million euros
The EDF is providing a financial contribution of €43 million for a project estimated at €63.5 million. This aid will be doubled with a contribution from certain large countries such as France (General Directorate of Armaments), Germany and Italy, specifies La Tribune Hervé Derrey. In exchange, the consortium will provide airborne technology demonstrators with a view to designing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities never before developed in Europe.
The main partners of TAS in this project are the Italian Center for Aerospace Research (CIRA) and the German group ESG (Elektroniksystem-und Logistik-GmbH), specializing in defense electronics: Stratobus (on a scale reduced to 60 meters long with two demonstrators), HHAA (Hybrid High Altitude Airship), a twenty meter tactical aircraft developed by CIRA and AsBass (3d controlled balloon) by ESG. In this context, several payloads will be tested during the demonstration phases that will take place between 2024 and 2026: the Lidar payload (laser remote sensing) provided by ONERA, COMINT (Communications Intelligence) by the National Institute of Aerospace Technology of Spain (INTA), ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) by the Italian Elettronica and, finally, Satcom and broadband by ESG.
Stratobus, first flight in 2030?
Urged by Hervé Derrey to find public funding and be imaginative on pain of a possible closure of Stratobus, the program teams managed, with the support of France, to convince DG DEFIS to bet on stratospheric aircraft to carry out observations. What they had not been able to do in 2019 within the framework of the European defense industrial development program (EDIDP). The TAS Stratobus teams no longer had a choice: when Hervé Derrey was appointed head of the TAS in February 2020, he had to manage the storm caused by Covid-19 and tighten the screws. At that point, Stratobus is no longer a priority. Especially since the CEO of TAS has other much more crucial priorities, such as reviving the Satcom business, which was experiencing great difficulties at the end of the previous decade.
Challenged by Hervé Derrey, the Stratobus teams, however, managed to put the stratospheric aircraft back on the group’s agenda. The general manager of TAS is still waiting for the conclusions of the EuroHAPS project to appropriate the concept and be definitively convinced by Stratobus, which will have to demonstrate its attractiveness to customers. This will be Hervé Derrey’s justice of the peace, who notes a real renewed interest in this type of project as evidenced by the financial support for the EuroHAPS project from France, Italy, Spain and Germany. However, the general director of TAS wants Stratobus to become a business project open to other investors and no longer a program developed in a traditional way by the Franco-Italian company.
As a result, the program will drift a lot over time, which is why projects in the United States are beginning to emerge. Scheduled to enter service in 2020, Stratobus, which is now personally supervised by Hervé Derrey, should only make its first scale 1 flight (140 meters long, 32 meters in diameter, around 8 tons) in 2030 at Istres, according to TAS. Because thehe development of the first stratospheric airship, capable of carrying a payload of more than 250 kg, will only resume once Demonstration phases of EuroHAPS carried out.
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