MicroLink to provide solar sheets for new Airbus drones

Airbus Defence and Space's next generation of Zephyr HAPS drones will be powered by MicroLink Devices solar sheet technologies. credit: Airbus

Airbus Defence and Space, a division of European multinational aerospace and defence corporation Airbus Group, has signed with US-based semiconductor manufacturer Microlink Devices to produce epitaxial liftoff (ELO)-based multijunction solar sheets for Airbus’s new drones.

Airbus’s ‘unmanned air vehicle’ known as the Zephyr S, is a high altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS), which runs entirely on solar power and can fly continuously for more than a month at a time. Airbus, which has already received two orders from Britain’s ministry of Defence, claims the drone is for surveillance and communications roles.

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The Zephyr S holds various world records including 14 days ‘endurance and flying to altitudes of 70,000 feet. It has a wingspan of 25 metres, while being 30% lighter and carrying 50% more batteries than its predecessor.

MicroLink Devices has developed a lightweight, flexible, high-efficiency solar sheet that suits area and weight constrained applications such as these drones, which run on solar energy.

MicroLink Devices solar sheets are lightweight and flexible with high specific and aeral powers enabling significant mobile power generation. Credit: Microlink

MicroLink's solar sheets have specific powers in excess of 1,000 W/kg and areal powers greater than 250 W/m2. MicroLink's ELO technology was sponsored by numerous US agencies including NASA, DARPA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, NAVAIR, Army Research Office, Army REF, CERDEC, and the Department of Energy.

Noren Pan, president and chief executive of MicroLink Devices, said: “We are extremely pleased to have developed a relationship with the Zephyr team four years ago and to transition our high-performance solar sheet development efforts into a production programme.  

“We know of no other flexible solar sheet that offers a comparable performance in terms of power and weight and reliability under a wide temperature range.”

Steve Whitby, head of HAPS business development, said: “MicroLink Devices is a world leader in the epitaxial liftoff of compound semiconductors providing outstanding performance for many semiconductor devices.”

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