October 24th, 2020
Real tests are the bread and butter of aerospace engineering. There are many things that cannot be simulated or tested in a limited lab environment. Unfortunately, some aerospace regulations can make certain flight tests extremely complicated until a robust risk mitigation process has been worked through. The area of testing unmanned aircraft at high-altitudes falls into this category. Integrating unmanned aircraft into controlled airspace or flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is currently challenging from a regulatory perspective.
To overcome some of these hurdles, Kea Aerospace has commenced stratospheric subsystems testing with high altitude balloons. The risks of balloons are well understood due to the thousands of smaller weather balloons that are launched worldwide every year, and thus, the regulatory framework is also fairly straightforward and simple.
These first balloon tests were performed with support from the University of Canterbury and focused on testing navigation and telemetry systems. The payload boxes subsequently descend on a parachute back to the ground where they are recovered.
The photos below, taken from one of the balloons, show the Southern Alps in the Canterbury area around Lake Coleridge from around 17km (55,000 feet) altitude.