TUCSON, Arizona — World View, a supplier of balloons that operate at near-space altitudes, and U.S. defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. agreed to jointly field uncrewed platforms for stratospheric communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The partnership will allow the companies to pursue new missions by combining SNC’s defense and aerospace integration, payload and mission systems expertise with World View’s high-altitude Earth observation capability, they said in a statement.
“This partnership will yield benefits on a global scale, integrating World View’s innovative stratospheric technology and robust station-keeping abilities with SNC’s mission solution architecture to deliver real-time data and uninterrupted communications at high altitudes,” World View CEO Ryan Hartman said in the statement.
With their minimal weight, high-altitude balloons have attracted attention for their ability to remain in the air for long periods of time while conducting surveillance operations as well as their potential capability to track hypersonic weapons. The U.S. military has been exploring potential uses for balloons for years. In 2019, the Pentagon conducted surveillance tests using high-altitude balloons made by SNC across midwestern states, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
SNC’s multi-domain systems will allow World View platforms to carry advanced defense and aerospace payloads, while adding capabilities including ISR and electronic warfare sensors, communication networks, cyber intelligence, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data transport, they said in the statement. They also allow for rapid deployment of high-altitude balloon platforms that can be reliably positioned and responsive within hours or days versus weeks for round-the-clock operations.
World View platforms host sensors that provide a full C5ISR architecture, including high-resolution imagery of Earth via remotely operated stratospheric balloons. It has completed more than 115 stratospheric flights including five heavy, full-mass tests over the past seven years. Customers include NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government and private companies.
The company’s Stratollite balloon is a remotely operated stratospheric vehicle that delivers commercial, scientific and government payloads to the near-space environment with revolutionary new control capabilities including precision landing and payload recovery. Its Altitude Control System allows for point-to-point navigation over large distances and persistent flight over specific areas. It’s capable of operating at altitudes up to 75,000 ft (23 km).
Sierra Nevada is the world’s 54rd largest defense contractor, according to an annual ranking by Defense News. It develops and deploys all-domain C5ISR systems worldwide, including ‘lighter-than-air’ high-altitude platforms and collection systems. When combined with World View’s capability, SNC said it can deliver real-time data and uninterrupted communications at higher altitudes and provide longer observing times at a much lower cost than traditional ISR platforms.
The companies demonstrated the rapidly maneuverable, ultra-persistent wide area communications and ISR platform as part of the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Project Aether Programme. SNC’s Flight 1 demonstration launched from Page, Arizona, performing station-keeping missions before transitioning northeast across several states to more urban environments. SNC performed stratospheric beyond-line-of-sight operations and recovered the payload, maintaining the altitudes for the duration set by the Aether programme office, it said.