The HAPS Challenge Phase 3 took place between November 2021 and 2022, with the sole participant in this phase, PACITS, led by DanField Stratoship Pty Ltd.

Despite numerous challenges, PACITS undertook development, regulatory and operational activities over the period of Phase 3, with key achievements including:

  1. Platform and sub-systems construction;
  2. Securing CASA exemptions for the flight trials in collaboration with QinetiQ and the Cloncurry Range (Queensland Flight Test Range);
  3. Two envelope inflation tests in May and July, providing confidence in the integrity of the envelope and helping to refine inflation procedures;
  4. Development and testing of individual systems, including buoyancy control, flight termination, mission avionics, propulsion, flight control; and
  5. Achieving key operational milestones, including pilot training, insurance, range and stakeholder engagement.

The PACITS syndicate and partners mobilised to Cloncurry in October 2022 with payloads and the Stratoship platform developed through the HAPS Challenge. After a period of flight preparation PACITS awaited a flight window that would meet meteorological conditions and flight approvals. Two Stratoship launch attempts were made, the second on 12 October was initially successful, however had to be terminated due to flight performance and airspace constraints. The system was recovered in full, and some minor damage consistent with landing impact was identified. The flight, while not achieving the full objectives, provided rich learning outcomes for the future.

The HAPS Challenge was efficiently executed and leveraged considerable interest from both private and government partners. While the first flight was terminated early and couldn’t therefore realise the full objectives of the Challenge, it provided Australian industry with an opportunity to invest in and develop a HAPS system and develop unique IP through the process.  The Challenge format allowed a diverse group of stakeholders to work together on a problem of mutual interest.

The challenge built experience and capability, providing a springboard for the PACITS consortium to achieve the performance targets with further time and investment. This establishes the basis for further development of a capability that would provide persistent surveillance and services at a cost well below the conventional fixed wing solutions being considered, providing an opportunity to operate at a scale and at an investment level that could provide a transformative capability option for the nation.

Power and Control in the Stratosphere (PACITS) was led by Danfield Stratoship and supported by a team The Stratoship Group including its sibling company Skysite, SuperSky Engineering, SmartSat Services and the Australian National University.

HAPS Challenge management incorporates Sir Lawrence Wackett Defence & Aerospace Centre – RMITSmartSat CRCTrusted Autonomous Systems and RAAF Air Warfare Centre supported by the Bureau of Meteorology.