Blimp-based communication system to be tested

Old soldiers may fade away, but not old ideas, especially if they have merit. This is the view of Bob Jones, a former manager at NASA, who wants to wed technologies from the past and the present in what he calls the Stratellite.

Jones's vision calls for a fleet of unmanned Stratellites--helium-filled dirigibles--to replace ungainly telecom towers. The dirigibles would hover at 65,000 feet, covering large swaths of territory (a typical airship's radio equipment could cover an area the size of Texas) with high-speed wireless access. The idea of using airships as a communications platform is not new (you might recall discussions of it in the late 1990s) but Jones's vision is more audacious. In three weeks, a scaled prototype of the system will be tested in Palmdale, a city in the Mojave Desert about an hour's drive north of Los Angeles. The test will feature tethered flights of a prototype, which cost about $3 million to build and is roughly a one-fifth scale model of the planned commercial airships. If the Palmdale tests are successful, the second phase of the test will begin later this year: Remote-controlled flights that would launch from nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Initially the blimp will float at 45,000 feet for several hours: The commercial airships would rise to 65,000 feet and stay aloft for 18 months at a time.

Jones argues that the solar-powered Stratellites would not only be beneficial to the landscape, replacing ever-proliferating, ugly cell towers, they would also offer better communication than either cell towers or Geostationary satellites. Current cell towers are challenged by line-of-sight limitations and limited range and geostationary satellites suffer from the quarter-second it takes a signal to travel 22,300 miles and back--insignificant in one-way TV transmissions, but a real problem in two-way Internet computer communications.

For more on the WiFi blimp idea:
-see this AFX Asia report

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