EU research

High-altitude pseudo-satellites: A technological assessment report


Do high-altitude pseudo-satellites, also known as HAPS, have the potential to enhance law-enforcement operations, border surveillance and communication? Frontex has just released a technological assessment report that tackles these questions.

Frontex’s research into HAPS

Frontex is currently leading a research study on HAPS, flying devices mirroring closely the capacity and operability of satellites. While this technology is still in the early stages of development, it represents significant potential uses in the context of surveillance, internal security, and border control.

As part of the research, the agency has been working on a technological assessment of the platforms.  Throughout nine months, the study aimed to explore whether HAPS can potentially be used in law enforcement operations to further enhance existing surveillance, communications, and navigation capabilities.

What are HAPS?

HAPS are advanced unmanned flying aircraft systems that operate in the stratosphere at an altitude typically between 18-22 km (59,000-72,000 ft).  Given the high altitude, HAPS must withstand harsh stratospheric conditions, such as temperatures falling down to minus 90°C, high solar, UV and cosmic radiation and low atmospheric pressure. While this environment poses an enormous challenge for aircraft engineers, the potential applications and use cases are highly promising not only for commercial operators and service providers, but also for institutional stakeholders, such as security agencies, that would be able to leverage the new technology and its associated applications and services.

Main findings of the report

The report looks at the technological readiness, assessing the technology of HAPS as such, but also its potential use to help tackle challenges faced by Frontex and other members of the EU Innovation Hub for Internal Security.

The authors of the report looked at particular case studies to see how HAPS can be used in such activities as earth observation, telecommunication and navigation, search and rescue missions, remote sensing and operations and provision of ad-hoc telecom and satellite navigation (GNSS).

The study includes the following elements:

  • an overview of balloons and airships (LTA – lighter-than-air) and with fixed-wing aircraft (HTA - heavier-than-air);
  • an analysis of individual HAPS technologies, including a comparison of the platforms, payload analysis, technological challenges, infrastructure demands, and regulatory barriers.

Innovation hub platform

The project is carried out under the EU Innovation Hub for Internal Security, a cross-sectorial EU platform which ensures collaboration between internal security innovation actors, formed by the EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies, European Commission (Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs and Directorate-General for Joint Research Centre), the Council General Secretariat and the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator.

The previous report on HAPS can be found here.

Files available for download

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