Solar-powered Flight and the Audi e-tron

In January 2023, Archibalds was contacted by a representative of Kea Aerospace with a unique proposition.

Under the direction of Mark Rocket and Dr Philipp Sueltrop, the aim of this Christchurch-based company is to ‘develop a solar-powered, unmanned aircraft that will fly continuously in the stratosphere for months at a time to collect frequent high-resolution aerial images’. Kea Aerospace is the only high-altitude flight company based in the Southern Hemisphere, and their aircraft – the Kea Atmos – hopes to be New Zealand’s first aircraft capable of stratospheric flight.

When they reached out to us, we jumped at the opportunity to assist them in launching the Kea Atmos Mk 1. Audi’s electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron, with its electronic drive, smooth suspension, and advanced technology was the obvious choice.

After an earlier test flight, on a cold March morning, Marketing Manager Mark Lincoln – over-dressed in business attire amongst the gumboot-clad Kea Aerospace engineers – visited Springfield Aerodrome, a grassy airstrip popular with glider enthusiasts.

Surrounded by frosted mountains and with the sunrise creating a perfect backdrop, it was an incredible experience to see the Audi e-tron silently roll along the runway and launch the Kea Atmos Mk 1 into a cloudless sky.

We were humbled by the experience and thank Kea Aerospace for inviting us to play a small but important role in this historic flight, and we look forward to seeing what comes next for Kea Aerospace.

  • The Kea Atmos Mk 1 solar-powered aircraft

Kea Aerospace Launches Solar-Powered Stratospheric Aircraft Using Audi EV

Press release by Kea Aerospace

New Zealand’s first solar-powered stratospheric aircraft will be a game-changer for collecting high-resolution aerial data for extreme weather events, environmental monitoring, and precision agriculture.

The “Kea Atmos Mk 1” uncrewed aircraft has been designed to be used for stratospheric flight testing. It has a wingspan of 12.5 metres, weighs under 40 kilograms and will fly at altitudes higher than commercial airliners, up to 50,000 feet. The electric launch vehicle being used is an Audi e-tron Sportback S line.

Kea Aerospace Logo

“It’s an exhilarating year for the company as we undertake a range of challenging flight tests on our journey to the stratosphere. It was an absolute thrill to show the Kea Atmos Mk1 aircraft to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy last month and we look forward to working with a wide range of international aerospace participants”, CEO of Kea Aerospace, Mark Rocket says.

Kea Aerospace has been building and flying a range of electric-powered aircraft and high-altitude balloons as part of its program to build a global fleet of solar-powered uncrewed aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere for months at a time. Their X10 aircraft flew in February 2022 for 36 hours non-stop and proved perpetual flight capability at low altitudes. Each aircraft will carry a suite of aerial imagery equipment offering game-changing advances for many industries, vastly improving the data available for activities including environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management and maritime awareness.

  • The Kea Atmos Mk 1 launches from the Audi e-tron EV

“The Kea Atmos is the first solar-powered stratospheric aircraft designed and built in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an incredible challenge to make the aircraft as lightweight as possible to fly in less than 10% of the air density we have at sea level, but at the same time it has to be tough enough to handle flying through the fast jet streams”, Mark Rocket says.

Kea Aerospace is based in Christchurch, New Zealand. High altitude flights are planned this year to take-off from Tāwhaki, on the Kaitorete Spit, located around 50 kilometres south of Christchurch.

  • Kea Aerospace and Audi e-tron

Company Info and Kea Atmos Applications

Kea Aerospace is building a fleet of solar-powered stratospheric aircraft that will be used to collect frequent high resolution aerial imagery for applications such as environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, maritime awareness and disaster management.

Disaster Management. Swiftly responding to better managing disasters when there are events such as extreme weather events, earthquakes, tsunamis and fires.

Environment. Monitoring the weekly changes in the environment by detecting pollution on land and in waterways.

Smart Cities. Developing smart cities where we can improve traffic flow, monitor housing changes and better manage our green spaces.

Precision Agriculture. Better data and analysis tools to enable precision agriculture and horticulture, such as reducing water and fertiliser use.

Forestry. Regularly monitoring vast forest areas for tree health and assessing fire risk.

Maritime. Monitoring crucial parts of New Zealand’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone, of over four million square kilometres (around 15 times the size of New Zealand’s landmass), to detect illegal fishing boats and other vessels.

Audi Electric Vehicles

With its combination of electric drive and a comfortable, sophisticated interior, the Audi e-tron creates a new sense of mobility.

The full-size electric SUV combines sportiness and everyday practicality. Its two electric motors together with electric all-wheel drive provide for awesome performance and agile handling. The high-voltage battery is the foundation for a range of up to 452 km (WLTP, real world driving test for the Audi e-tron Sportback), with a 0 to 100 km/h accelleration time of just 5.7 seconds thanks to a system output of 300 kW.

View the Audi e-tron as well as other fully electric and plug-in hybrid Audi electric vehicles.

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