Media Release: New Zealand Stratospheric Aircraft Design Unveiled

September 7th, 2022

The design of New Zealand’s first stratospheric aircraft has been finalised and construction is well underway, Christchurch-based Kea Aerospace has confirmed.

The solar-powered “Kea Atmos Mk 1” will be used for high altitude flight testing. It has a wingspan of 12.5 metres and weighs under 40 kilograms. Designed to fly at 65,000 feet (20 kilometres) – around twice the altitude of commercial airliners – the Kea Atmos is designed to fly test flights of up to 16 hours. Subsequent versions will be developed to fly continuously for months at a time, Kea Aerospace chief executive Mark Rocket says.

“This is the first stratospheric aircraft built in New Zealand. We started construction in July, and we’re planning for the first stratospheric flight to take-off in early 2023. At that height it will be flying in extreme conditions – at about -65 degrees Celsius, and in less than 10% of the air density we have at sea level. The aircraft needs to be extremely light, but also be incredibly robust to operate successfully in those conditions”.

“New Zealand has a rich aviation history. We’re thrilled to be able to unveil the design of our first stratospheric-capable aircraft, and add to that story. The Kea Atmos aircraft embodies the bold, curious spirit of the Kea, is gorgeous and graceful, and just looks super cool,” Mark Rocket says.

Kea Aerospace has been building and flying a range of electric-powered aircraft and high-altitude balloons as part of its program to build a global fleet of solar-powered uncrewed aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere for months at a time. Each aircraft will carry a suite of aerial imagery equipment offering game-changing advances for many industries, vastly improving the data available for activities including environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management and maritime awareness.

Kea Aerospace is based in Christchurch, New Zealand. The first stratospheric flight is planned to take-off in early 2023 from Tāwhaki, on Kaitorete, located around 50 kilometres south of Christchurch.

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View the Kea Atmos Mk1 animation.