BAE Systems has reached agreement to acquire British company Prismatic Ltd, as the companies work to further develop their unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology. The move forms part of BAE Systems’ strategy to develop breakthrough technologies, undertaking bolt-on acquisitions where they complement existing capabilities and provide an opportunity to accelerate technology development in key areas.
Since an initial collaboration between the two companies was announced in May 2018, engineers have been working at speed to develop two 35m solar-powered UAS prototypes, various sensor payloads and operational concepts. In just 15 months, the team has delivered two full-scale prototype aircraft, which are now undergoing integration testing at BAE Systems’ Warton facility in preparation for flight trials planned for early next year.
Nigel Whitehead, Chief Technology Officer at BAE Systems, said “The UK is a world leader in combat air technology and bringing together the best of British expertise is critically important to drive future technological innovation that will ensure we retain this enviable position […] Working together with Prismatic, we’re pushing technological boundaries to develop a revolutionary solar-powered aircraft at an incredibly rapid pace. Our investment in the company will enable us to take this technology into production, with the very real possibility that this aircraft could enter initial operations with customers within 12 months of flight trials.”
Paul Brooks, founder and CEO of Prismatic, added “We are a small, entrepreneurial team of scientists and engineers focused on designing and demonstrating novel, high value aerospace systems. This investment from BAE Systems represents a landmark in the development of Prismatic, giving our team access to world-class expertise and capacity in systems integration, productionisation and operations that will enable our developments to be fully exploited. This is a partnership built on outstanding technical experience and which exploits the very best in small company thinking and large company experience.”
As a High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicle, the PHASA-35 (Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft) is powered by the sun during the day and by batteries overnight. The long-life battery and highly efficient solar technology allow the aircraft to potentially maintain flight for up to a year, operating in the upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere. The novel aero structure design combined with the advanced solar technology makes PHASA-35 a game changer in the air and space market.
Due to being made from ultra-thin carbon fibre composite material, PHASA-35 has a lightweight build and high aerodynamic efficiency, which allows it to fly at high altitudes for extended periods of time. The aircraft has also been designed to be easily manufactured. The prototype PHASA-35 has a 35m wingspan and weighs just 150kg, including a 15kg payload.
PHASA-35, when connected to other technologies and assets, will provide both military and commercial customers with capabilities not currently available from existing air and space platforms. The UAS has the potential to be used in the delivery of 5G networks, as well as provide other services, such as persistent surveillance, disaster relief and border protection, at a fraction of the cost of satellites.
Technology and innovation are central to BAE Systems’ strategy, underpinning the continued development of its products and services. In 2018, BAE Systems spent £1.5bn on research and development, of which £222m was self-funded and included collaborative projects with leading UK universities in areas such as novel materials, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, air vehicles and avionics testing.
The Combat Air Strategy, announced last year, has set the tone for how the UK government sees industry evolving in a competitive market, highlighting the criticality of collaboration to optimise investment and drive pace in the development of cutting edge technology here in the UK.
As a proven lead systems integrator, BAE Systems is working with multiple innovation partners to accelerate technology and capability acquisition and insertion across its product and service portfolio. BAE Systems’ collaboration with Prismatic adds to a growing number of successful collaborations across the company in pursuit of fast-paced technological advantage. The company is working with Reaction Engines to accelerate the development of SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine), a new aerospace engine class that combines both jet and rocket technologies with the potential to revolutionise hypersonic flight.
BAE Systems is also partnering with researchers at The University of Manchester on MAGMA, a UAS with ‘flap-free’ technologies. During flight trials earlier this year, the aircraft was manoeuvred entirely by supersonically blown air, removing the need for traditional movable flight control surfaces. An aviation history first, these innovative flow control technologies could revolutionise future aircraft design.