Christchurch's Kea Aerospace Partners with NASA on Revolutionary Solar-Powered Aircraft

Kea Aerospace’s solar-powered aircraft will conduct months-long autonomous flights to capture continuous aerial imagery.

In a groundbreaking development for the aerospace industry, Christchurch-based Kea Aerospace has secured funding to collaborate with NASA on a solar-powered, remotely piloted aircraft designed to soar in the stratosphere. The company is at the forefront of high-altitude, long-duration aviation technology thanks to this ambitious project, which has the support of New Zealand’s catalyst fund.

Technology and Space Minister Judith Collins announced the infusion of up to $75,000 for each of the 12 innovative projects from across New Zealand chosen to participate in a six-month Earth observation study in partnership with NASA. Kea Aerospace’s pioneering research is focused on enhancing coastal water quality monitoring, a significant advancement in environmental stewardship.

The innovative Kea Atmos aircraft, which Kea Aerospace is currently fine-tuning through prototype flights in New Zealand, is slated to serve as both a high-altitude platform station and a high-endurance aircraft. It is poised to operate continuously for weeks at altitudes above 60,000 feet and is equipped with advanced camera systems to gather vital coastal data.

Established in 2018, Kea Aerospace will develop a state-of-the-art tool to bolster coastal management efforts. Their project summary explains that resources are a constraint on managing the vast expanse of coastlines. The upcoming aircraft aims to bridge this gap by delivering a continuous stream of data from the stratosphere, facilitating better-informed decisions by scientists and policymakers.

Minister Collins highlighted the diversity and potential of the selected research projects, which range from environmental monitoring and natural hazard assessment to biodiversity conservation. These initiatives were chosen based on their capacity for impactful collaborative science that is of mutual interest to both New Zealand and NASA.

Among the funded projects, Lincoln Agritech, in partnership with NASA, will embark on an innovative mission to monitor pasture quality using satellite imagery. This research underscores New Zealand’s commitment to enhancing its agricultural technology through space-based applications.

This international partnership, which received support from a joint agreement with Australia signed in January, allots up to $6 million over three years through the catalyst fund. It represents a significant step in supporting the research community and reinforces the country’s position as a leading force in Earth observation and aerospace innovation.

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