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STRATODYNAMICS Sets New Canadian Records for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Flight From Over 111,400 Feet Altitude With the HiDRON Stratospheric Glider

Press Release From: Stratodynamics Aviation Inc.
Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

STRATODYNAMICS, in collaboration with UAVOS, are excited to announce their latest successful record-setting stratospheric flight. The stratospheric glider named the HiDRON was released from a Canadian Space Agency scientific gondola at an altitude of 111,434 feet (33.9 km) and performed a four hour controlled flight and landed at Iroquois Falls Airport about 80 km from the Timmins, Ontario launch site.

The night flight demonstrated the HiDRON’s beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities and was supported by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the French Space Agency (CNES) as part of the 2019 Strato-Science Balloon campaign at the balloon base in Timmins, Ontario.

The record setting flight achieved many firsts in Canadian Aviation:

  • Highest altitude flight of a UAV or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). RPAS is the name used by Transport Canada to encompass UAVs.
  • First UAV above 29,000 feet in Class A airspace.
  • First release of a UAV from a scientific gondola in Canada.
  • A Pioneering International Collaboration

The record setting flight is the culmination of 12 months of international collaboration and planning with colleagues in Canada, Belarus and Slovakia and was the second of two flights commissioned to test AMON Airglow detector from Stratodynamics’ client, the Institute of Experimental Physics at the Slovak Academy of Science. The Slovakian team, lead by Pavol Bobik, was searching for a cost-effective method for the AMON detector to have a clear view upwards unencumbered by a weather balloon blocking the view. The AMON detector is planned to participate in EUSO-SPB2 mission that will fly on a long duration NASA balloon in 2022.

The HiDRON release from the CSA gondola is another first for STRATODYNAMICS, as previous launches have been by weather balloons, and added new layers of complexity. Prior to the launch, the Stratodynamics and UAVOS teams advanced aspects of the HiDRON including the transponder, stratospheric flight controls, data links, and safety protocols. The HiDRON features UAVOS’ autopilot AP 10.3 Micro.

The HiDRON was to launched from the Timmins Victor M. Power Airport via the CSA scientific gondola at 10 pm on Saturday, August 31st. The mission plan was to release the HiDRON from the gondola sometime between an altitude of 30 km altitude and the target ceiling altitude of 37 km (121,000 feet). Once released the HiDRON would follow a pre-set flight plan and land at Iroquois Falls Airport. This meant the team was onsite at the Timmins airport until the gondola’s lift-off from the CSA Balloon Base. At approximately 10:40 pm, the crew then packed up the ground station and drove about 80 km to the Iroquois Fall Municipal Airport and re-established the ground station while the HiDRON was still on the gondola. The Iroquois Falls Cadet Flying site, associated with the Canadian Forces Base Trenton graciously provided facilities for the the ground station to initiate the HiDRON release, remotely monitor and adjust the flight plan, and complete landing operations. As the gondola rose to it’s float altitude, the HiDRON was released at around 12:30 am on September 1st at an altitude of 111,400 feet. The HiDRON performed well in difficult headwinds and -60° C stratospheric conditions with its AMON detector recording single pixel data in a near-moonless night sky.

STRATODYNAMICS was issued a Special Flights Operation Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada and a Flight Authorization from NAV Canada as the HiDRON UAV glider would be flying semi-autonomously, beyond visual line of sight, and in controlled airspace. This campaign was part of a BVLOS demonstration project under the LOOKNorth program and STRATODYNAMICS thankfully acknowledges funding contributions from C-CORE, the program’s host organization.

Gary Pundsack, CEO Stratodynamics Aviation Inc.:

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this pioneering flight in Canadian Aviation, and the spirit of collaboration that enabled this successful campaign. Special thanks goes to our colleagues at Transport Canada and NAV Canada who provided considerable efforts to enable these firsts in Canadian Aviation. The Canadian Space Agency and the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales also provided great support and assistance. And thanks to the Iroquois Falls Cadet Flying site who graciously provided use of their facilities.

The September 1st flight once again confirmed the STRATODYNAMICS’ capability to perform high-altitude missions and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations and set a new operational best for the HiDRON’s flight in challenging stratospheric environment.”

Dr. Pavol Bobik, scientist at the Slovak Academy of Science:

“We appreciate the flexibility, excellent customer support, professionalism and willingness of Stratodynamics during our campaign”. 

Aliaksei Stratsilatau, CEO, UAVOS:

“HiDRON is a real solution that advances the important research around climate change and other atmospheric chemistry problems. The HiDRON provides solutions for tough problems that affect all of humankind, which is why it is such a necessary platform for researchers.”

About STRATODYNAMICS AVIATION Inc.

Stratodynamics provides earth observation platforms and services. Platforms are unmanned aerial vehicles that carry in-situ measurement instruments. In addition to operating our platforms, services include instrument integration, campaign coordination, and data collection and assessment.

STRATODYNAMICS is currently developing their series B HiDRON to accommodate a 5 kg in-situ and observation payloads.

About UAVOS

UAVOS Inc. is a globally operating company with its offices the Silicon Valley, Switzerland, and Hong Kong offering proprietary unmanned aerial, ground and surface solutions with applications in commercial, industrial and defense markets. We specialize in the design, development and manufacturing of unmanned vehicles and autopilot systems as well as components such as servo drives, pan-tilt platforms, rescue/emergency landing systems. Our solutions range from small industrial surveillance drones to large UAVs.

Background on AMON Airglow Detection

The upper atmosphere of the Earth is continuously ionized by solar radiation with short wavelengths, solar energetic particles and cosmic rays. These processes can lead to production of faint light that is commonly known as airglow. The airglow can be effectively observed by ground-based detectors during the night time while the direct sunlight is absent. The variation of airglow intensity in dependency to geographical position, time, solar cycle, geomagnetic activity and changes in the Earth’s atmosphere is detected but still not well understood. Furthermore, night sky diffused light with contribution of starlight and zodiacal light affects background detections of Extensive Air Shower (EAS) events. The estimation of absolute intensity of this background is essential for evaluation of EAS energy of events with low statistics i.e. events produced by interactions of Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECR) in Earth’s atmosphere.

The AMON detector was tested during several observation campaigns on Lomnicky peak Observatory (Slovakia), on El Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory La Palma (Spain) and on Observatorio Astronomico Nacional de San Pedro Martir, Baja California (Mexico) during years 2015 -2018. The collaboration with Stratodynamics is a first for testing this new AMON design in a high-altitude operational environment.

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