Aerostat drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used for a variety of tasks that are only expanding as time goes on and the technology continues to evolve.
In this article, we’ve tried to include only applications that would benefit from this configuration over any other type of UAV.
Here are 6 awesome unmanned aerostat applications:
- Exploring the atmospheres of other planets
- Measuring & monitoring the Earth’s atmosphere
- Extending the reach/capacity of communications systems
- High-altitude ISR
- Long-distance freight delivery
- Radio frequency jamming
- How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For Planetary Exploration?
- Why Are Unmanned Aerostats Used To Measure & Monitor The Earth’s Atmosphere?
- How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used To Extend The Reach/Capacity Of Communications Systems?
- How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For High-Altitude ISR?
- How Can Unmanned Aerostats Be Used For Long-Distance Freight Delivery?
- How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For Radio Frequency (RF) Jamming?
How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For Planetary Exploration?
Different planets have different conditions to ours which can make conventional methods of flight that we use on Earth no longer effective or efficient.
Unmanned aerostats are used for planetary exploration as their method of generating lift using buoyant lifting gas is adaptable to different environments including the atmospheres of other planets.
Check out our full post on unmanned aerostats where we dive into how they work, their types, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages, propulsion systems and examples:
Related Post: What Are Unmanned Aerostats? Floating Drones/UAVs Explained
Some planets have very thin atmospheres making fixed-wing drones and rotary-wing drones have a hard time staying aloft due to the method they use to generate lift.
In a thin atmosphere such as Mars, a fixed-wing vehicle would have to fly very fast just to stay aloft and a rotary-wing drone would need to spin its rotors very fast as well.
Both unmanned balloons and airships have been proposed options for these types of missions. However, unmanned balloons are the only type to have been used.
Possible payloads include magnometers, infrared spectrometers, electro-optical sensors etc.
The Vega program used a combination of unmanned spacecraft (Vega 1+Vega 2) which orbited around the planet Venus and unmanned space probes to study the planet.
They released two unmanned space probes in the form of balloon drones equipped with various scientific instruments to enter its orbit and take measurements a certain distance from its surface.
Why Are Unmanned Aerostats Used To Measure & Monitor The Earth’s Atmosphere?
The temperature of the air, humidity, pressure, precipitation, wind speed/direction, and solar radiation are all very important factors to monitor in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Unmanned aerostats are used to measure & monitor the Earth’s atmosphere by floating at high altitudes for long durations using various payloads in order to determine weather patterns and atmospheric conditions.
If balloons are used, they are often referred to as weather/meteorological balloons. However, to be considered a drone and not just a robot, these types of balloons have to be intended to be used multiple times or for long periods of time.
Often, weather balloons are intended to reach a certain altitude where the pressure within the envelope will be too high and therefore it will pop, releasing the payload which deploys a parachute and lands safely on Earth’s surface. These are not considered drones, just robots.
Aerostat drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are typically capable of carrying large payloads while staying aloft for long periods of time using lifting gas (typically helium).
They may not beat other types of UAVs in terms of speed, but they most definitely come out on top in terms of efficiency.
Both unmanned airships and unmanned balloons can be used depending on whether the operators intend to steer the aerostat or not. Unmanned airships are powered and can be steered whereas unmanned balloons cannot but often have longer flight times.
Check out our full post on unmanned balloon aerostats where we dive into how they work, their types, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages and examples:
Related Post: What Are Unmanned Balloons? Aerostat Drones/UAVs Explained
They often use radiosondes which are telemetry instruments that are typically attached to weather balloons and measure things such as pressure, wind conditions, altitude, temperature etc.
How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used To Extend The Reach/Capacity Of Communications Systems?
Communication systems include a collection of multiple systems such as telecommunication systems or relay stations which all provide some sort of transmission of communications.
These types of operations are typically done by cell towers on the ground or artificial satellites (considered drones but often called robots) orbiting the Earth.
Unmanned aerostats are used to extend the reach/capacity of communication systems by being sent into Earth’s orbit equipped with various instruments enabling them to not only reflect communications but also measure solar and atmospheric pressure.
These types of aerostats are often unmanned balloons and can be called balloon satellites.
They can fly very high for long durations if designed to do so making them a cost-effective, reliable, and safe solution for these sorts of operations.
They often will be equipped with transponders in order to connect the transmitter and receiver to relay communications by reflecting microwave signals sent from the surface of the Earth often to a different location.
The Echo 1 and Echo 2 are two examples of communication balloon satellites that reflected microwave signals.
How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For High-Altitude ISR?
ISR stands for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. These sorts of operations are typically conducted by the military but can include any institution in various sectors.
Unmanned aerostats are used for high-altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) as they are capable of flying at high altitudes for long periods of time while carrying high payloads at a much cheaper cost of operation than other types of UAVs.
Airship drones/UAVs are in many cases more beneficial than balloons as these sorts of operations will often benefit from having a fully mobile self-propelled vehicle.
Check out our full post on unmanned airships where we dive into how they work, their types, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages, propulsion systems and examples:
Related Post: What Are Unmanned Airships? Aerostat Drones/UAVs Explained
Payloads include electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, radar, thermal sensors and many more.
The Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) 74K made by Lockheed Martin which is an airship UAV and the Skystar 180 made by Aeronautics Defense Systems which is a balloon UAV are two examples of both unmanned airships and balloons used for ISR operations.
How Can Unmanned Aerostats Be Used For Long-Distance Freight Delivery?
Long-distance freight (cargo transported in bulk) delivery can be transported in various ways including by train, ship, truck, and even aircraft (often by fixed-wing cargo aircraft).
Unmanned aerostats can be used for long-distance freight delivery as they can be designed to carry a very large amount of payload for long periods of time over long distances.
These types of drones are far quicker than boats, trains, and trucks, and far more efficient than fixed-wing aircraft.
Unmanned airships specifically would be the better choice between both types of aerostats as they would need to be flown to specific locations under their own power in order to be useful. They could be made autonomous to facilitate and speed up the process.
These types of operations are not yet commonplace even for all other types of drones. Drone delivery and transport are in their early stages and still has a while to go before the required infrastructure enabling it all to work seamlessly is created.
How Are Unmanned Aerostats Used For Radio Frequency (RF) Jamming?
Radio frequencies are used by most of our wireless electronic devices for communication. Even untethered drones of all kinds use radio waves to communicate enabling us to control and receive data from a distance.
Unmanned aerostats are used for radio frequency jamming by being equipped with radio frequency (RF) jammers and flying at high altitudes to have a broader coverage over a specific area disabling electronic devices that communicate via radio signals.
This can be useful in missile and air defence as well as in stopping wireless unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). However, special authorisation will be required as these types of devices are banned in several countries such as the United States.
Unmanned aerostats are very beneficial due to their long flight times enabling them to float for long durations. Their hovering and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities can further add benefit.
They’re also often very durable and easy to repair. If a bullet pierces the envelope, it is often possible to ground the aerostat in a controlled manner and simply place tape on the hole and continue using it in battle.
We’ve tried our best to mention those applications that would primarily benefit from the aerostat design rather than any other kind of drone.
We hope you learned something new and we encourage you to check out our full post explaining aerostat UAVs for a general overview of this type of UAV.