if, if the Stratobus stratospheric airship project is still breathing

Severely put on a financial diet in the last two years by the CEO of Thales Alenia Space (TAS) Hervé Derrey, the Stratobus program rebounded in extremis this summer thanks to the European Defense Fund (EDF). The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defense and Space Industry (DG DEFI) entrusted TAS, as the coordinator of a consortium of 21 European companies of 11 different nationalities, with a demonstration of the design technology of three high-altitude platforms (EuroHAPS). TAS will provide technological bricks through its Stratobus project.

The aid is around 80 million euros

EDF provided a financial contribution of 43 million euros for a project estimated at 63.5 million. This aid will be doubled by a contribution from some major countries such as France (General Directorate of Armaments), Germany and Italy, determined La Tribune Hervé Derrey. In return, the consortium must provide air technology demonstrators with the aim of designing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that have not yet been developed in Europe.

The main partners of TAS in this project are Italian Center for Aerospace Research (CIRA) and the German group ESG (Elektroniksystem-ug Logistik-GmbH), specialist in defense electronics: Stratobus (in a scale reduced to 60 meters in length with two demonstrators), HHAA (Hybrid High Altitude Airship), a twenty meter tactical airship developed in CIRA and AsBass (balloon controlled by 3d) in 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 (Communication Skills) through the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) in Italian Elettronica and, finally, Satcom and broadband in ESG.

Stratobus, first flight in 2030?

Urged by Hervé Derrey to find public funding and to be imaginative under the penalty of the possible closure of Stratobus, the program teams succeeded, with the support of France, in convincing DG DEFIS to bet on stratospheric airships to make the observation . What they did not do in 2019 within the framework of the European industrial development program in the field of defense (EDIDP). The TAS Stratobus teams had no choice: when Hervé Derrey was appointed head of TAS in February 2020, he had to manage the storm caused by Covid-19 and tighten the bolts. At that time, the Stratobus was no longer a priority. Especially since the CEO of TAS has other priorities that are more important, such as reviving the Satcom business, which has struggled to make ends meet for the past decade.

Challenged by Hervé Derrey, the Stratobus teams nevertheless managed to put the stratospheric airship back on the group’s agenda. The CEO of TAS is still waiting for the conclusions of the EuroHAPS project to adapt the concept and definitely convince the Stratobus, which should show its appeal to customers. This will be the justice of the peace for Hervé Derrey, who notes a real renewed interest in this type of project shown by the financial assistance given to the EuroHAPS project in France, Italy, Spain and Germany. However, the CEO of TAS wants Stratobus to be a business project open to other investors and no longer a program developed in the traditional way of the Franco-Italian company.

As a result, the program drifted significantly over time, so projects in the United States began to emerge. Scheduled to enter service in 2020, the Stratobus, now personally overseen by Hervé Derrey, should make its first scale 1 flight (140 meters long, 32 meters in diameter, about 8 tons) in 2030 in Istres, according to TAS. Because theThe development of the first stratospheric airship, capable of carrying a payload of more than 250 kg, will only return once the EuroHAPS demonstration rounds are being held.