Posts Tagged ‘glider’


A novel unmanned aircraft system designed for oceanographic research, developed by 4th engineering students at the University of Southampton, has had its maiden flight near Oban, in Scotland. Commissioned by ASTRA partners, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the system comprises a glider (launched from a high altitude balloon), which is capable of delivering a small, compact and low cost ocean drifter (also developed as part of the ASTRA initiative) to a specific location on the ocean surface. A few meters above the water the aircraft is designed to disintegrate, jettisoning the instrumented drifter and its long underwater drogue.

The image above shows the various stages of the operating concept (clockwise from left): glider launch via helium balloon, glider flight to target location, glider disintegration and drifter+drogue separation on the ocean surface and drogue slowly sinking upon impact with the water.

The key application of the system is to chart ocean currents.

The ASTRA initiative and the 4th year students (who, incidentally, graduated today!) involved would like to thank the Scottish Association for Marine Science in general and Dr Phil Anderson in particular for their generous hosting of the flight test phase of the project.


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Scientists from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) set the following challenge: design an ocean drifter (an instrument package used to chart surface currents on the ocean), which can be deployed from a long distance, without the need for expensive research vessels.

Responding to this requirement, fourth year students from the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, supervised by ASTRA staff and PhD students, designed and built a prototype glider, which, carrying the instrumented buoy and its drogue in its fuselage, can be launched from a high altitude balloon. The glider, fitted with an autopilot (which doubles as the drifter’s on-board computer), flies to the target location, where, a few meters above the water it disintegrates, releasing the drifter.

The first ‘live’ deployment of the system is planned for later this summer.

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