World View engineers work on plan to send KFC Zinger into space

In a seemingly unique (or bizarre) situation, Tucson, Arizona-based World View is working with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to put together a stratospheric balloon launch to take the Zinger sandwich to the edge of space.

A key theme in KFC’s latest marketing campaign, the Zinger’s journey to space is the subject of an FCC application for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to operate a number of radio systems that will carry telemetry data from World View’s stratospheric balloon and deliver command and control signals to the balloon during its mission. Spectrum bands to be used include 902-928 MHz and 2.402-2.478 GHz.

To prepare for a safe launch and operation, World View is asking for authorization to do ground-based testing prior to the launch. Proposed testing would occur from May 29 to July 14, a timeframe that covers both ground testing and the actual launch and flight of the balloon for the designated mission.

A World View representative wasn’t immediately available to comment. Wireless consulting engineer Steve Crowley tweeted about the application last week—and no, it’s not a late April Fool’s joke. Ad Age covered plans for the stratospheric marketing campaign here.  

Apparently in an effort to compete with the burger guys and one-up them in the chicken department, KFC is talking up its ability to bring chicken to new heights. In a TV ad that debuted last month, actor Rob Lowe played up the space angle.

“There is one question that we will be able to answer with certainty very soon: Can you actually launch KFC’s world famous Zinger chicken sandwich into space?,” Lowe says in the commercial. “And the answer is we certainly hope so. Our entire marketing campaign depends on it.”

In its FCC application, World View explained that KFC’s Zinger product launch plan included taking the sandwich literally to the edge of space as part of the artistic concept. The original, unidentified company that KFC had hired to assist with that portion of the product launch backed out, leading the chicken chain to reach out to World View.

Apparently World View is up to the task because it’s been working with KFC to put together a successful mission that would launch in June. It’s a short timeframe, but one that’s required by World View’s customer, the application notes.

When the mission gets underway in June, the balloon will be launched from Benson, Arizona. From there, it will ascend to and operate between 65,000 and 80,000 feet. The balloon will float over the surrounding Tucson region; all the radio transmitters and receivers on the ground will be at the World View headquarters.

Experimentation with the balloon and communication systems technology is subject to stratospheric wind conditions that require a 200-mile radius of operations, and a flight duration of up to 10 days. “During that time, the cameras on the balloon will be engaged to video key aspects of an innovative advertising campaign, taking KFC’s product to the edge of space,” World View’s application states. “Being in the stratosphere is essential to showing the product at the edge of space.”

For about two weeks, World View will be conducting system integration testing at and near its facilities in Tucson, starting indoors in the World View building. After the lab tests, the company plans a local test to mimic the operation of the communications system when the balloon is in flight.

Specifically, World View proposes to take its payload about 26 miles from its headquarters up to the top of Mt. Lemmons, which has an elevation of more than 9,000 feet. From there, World View will drive along the mountain ridge about two miles, back and forth. The payload will transmit at 2.4 GHz back to World View’s headquarters, simulating the downlink of video, thus allowing the high-gain, tracking antenna at World View’s headquarters to be properly tested for its performance in receiving the telemetry data from the balloons when it’s launched.

Vendors listed on the application include Airborne Innovations and Canada's Microhard.

The application filed April 28 is pending with the FCC. Interestingly, in its correspondence, the FCC did not ask: “Are you kidding?”—which might be one’s first response—but notes that the exhibit states the downlink from the balloon is using 2.4 GHz at 6 W output, 12.1 W ERP. “The data in the form shows the 2.4 GHz signal at 6 W output and 3.7 kW ERP and also lists a 900 MHz frequency. Explain.”

That question must be addressed before processing can continue.

Meanwhile, to minimize interference, World View said in the application that it has worked to design a system that puts the most gain into the receive antenna rather than adding power to the transmitter. In addition, the radios are all “listen-before-transmit,” and they’ll find a clear channel before sending information, mitigating any potential interference with other spectrum users.

In case you missed it (like us), KFC last month announced that the Zinger will be available in participating U.S. restaurants beginning April 24. It’s already been available in more than 120 countries across the world, so it’s unclear why it’s just now hitting the U.S. But if the space mission proves successful, it’s sure to hit it out of the park—at the very least.