10,000 metres above the Baltic Sea at the end of the project Meteorological drone of the TU Braunschweig reached its target altitude on 26 October
During the last measurement campaign in the AEROMET_UAV project under the project management of Dr. Astrid Lampert, the flight system reached the target altitude of ten kilometres. The unmanned flight system LUCA collects meteorological data that are indispensable as a base for weather models and weather forecasting. The AEROMET_UAV project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure as part of the mFUND innovation initiative with a total budget of 710,558 euros.
The measurement system LUCA (Lightweight Unmanned high Ceiling Aerial system) has confirmed the potential to supplement and at least partially replace radiosonde measurements (weather balloons). The flight system, which was developed by Dr.-Ing. Konrad Bärfuss of the Institute of Flight Guidance at Technische Universität Braunschweig, has to meet high requirements: Wind speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour are expected during measurement missions, and temperatures of down to -80 degrees Celsius can occur. There is also the danger of aircraft icing, which is why an icing sensor was integrated.
LUCA has a wingspan of 1.75 meters and a weight of six kilograms. A particular design challenge was to integrate sufficient energy in the form of batteries into a system that is as light as possible. In addition, the system should continue to fly safely and remain controllable in the event of malfunctions. Moreover, the sensor system should not be damaged during automatic landing in a landing net. The aircraft has to fly faster than the maximum wind speed for which it was built and is therefore difficult to take off and land by hand.
Sustainable measurements possible
Compared to conventional radiosondes, LUCA offers the advantage that it returns to the launch site. This means that even more expensive sensors can be checked again later if necessary – and of course reused. Since flights up to an altitude of ten kilometers are currently only possible in restricted military areas in Germany, the test flights were carried out in cooperation with the military training area Todendorf/Putlos with coastal connection in Schleswig-Holstein.
New territory, but no world record
Flight systems with solar panels have already reached larger heights in the past. Therefore, the flights in the research project do not represent a world record according to the guidelines of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). “However, there have been no comparable meteorological vertical soundings with small unmanned aerial systems up to such heights anywhere in the world, which means that the project has touched new ground”, says Dr. Astrid Lampert, who is leading the project.
Launch with catapult, landing in the net
Due to its high take-off mass in relation to its size, the flight system is launched with a specially designed catapult. The landing is also rather unconventional – a horizontal net catches LUCA duringa diving landing manoeuvre.
With this measurement campaign, the research project AEROMET_UAV (Upgrading and Extension of Meteorological Data Acquisition by Meteorological UAV) comes to a successful end. Dr. Lampert: “We had to deal with many technical difficulties during the project. Added to this was the Corona pandemic, which made the planned deployment in Antarctica impossible. We are pleased that we were able to show that the development of the system was successful and that we were able to obtain interesting measurement data, which we are now comparing directly with weather balloon data obtained in the field.”
The public final meeting event for the project will be held on November 22, 2021 from 10 am to 1 pm. Guests are welcome, the access data can be found here.
In addition to TU Braunschweig, the German Weather Service (DWD), the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the company exabotix GmbH are involved in the development of the flight system. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is funding the project for three years. The total funding amounts to 716,000 euros. The project started on August 1, 2018 and ended on October 31, 2021.
About the mFUND of the BMVI:
As part of the mFUND innovation initiative, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has been funding data-based research and development projects for digital and network mobility 4.0 since 2016. Project funding is supplemented by active professional networking between stakeholders from politics, business, administration and research and by making open data available on the mCLOUD portal. Further information can be found at www.mFUND.de.