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US rolls out robotic broadband airship

Stratellite's gone, up to the skies...

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US communications outfit Sanswire yesterday unveiled concrete evidence of its truly audacious plan to deliver line-of-sight wireless broadband and mobile phone signals to an area the size of Texas from a single transmission point. The company is not, however, planning a private satellite launch or 10,000-foot-high transmission mast disguised as a really big tree - rather it intends to deploy a fleet of geostationary, robotic airships hovering at a comfortable 65,000 feet above the Earth.

The StratelliteThe makers reckon the "Stratellite" will "change the way you communicate", according to Sanswire parent GlobeTel Communications Corp supremo Leigh Coleman. He explained to Reuters: "We're shooting for satellite replacement at a lower cost."

Indeed, the 245-foot-long beast costs around $25-35m a pop - an absolute snip when compared to putting a coms satellite into orbit. It's controlled by ground-based stations and relies on six GPS units coupled to the vehicle's electric motors to make sure it stays put and your signal stays nice and crisp.

The maker's blurb further explains:

Made of Spectra[*] and powered by solar powered electrical engines, each Stratellite will reach its final altitude by utilizing proprietary lifting gas technology. Once in place at 65,000 feet (approx. 13 miles) and safely above the jet stream, each Stratellite will remain in one GPS coordinate, providing the ideal wireless transmission platform. The Stratellites are unmanned airships and will be monitored from the Company’s Operation Centers on the ground.

A Stratellite will have a payload capacity of several thousand pounds and clear line-of-sight to approximately 300,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Texas. However, the Company’s initial plan is to use one Stratellite for each major metropolitan area.

The Stratellite is similar to a satellite in concept, but is stationed in the stratosphere rather than in orbit. Existing satellites provide easy "download" capabilities, but because of their high altitude are not practical for commercially viable "two-way" high-speed data communication. The Stratellite will allow subscribers to easily communicate in "both directions" using readily available wireless devices.

Sanswire has almost completed a prototype of the Stratellite, but is awaiting a green light from NASA and the FAA to conduct tests over Edwards Air Force base - hopefully within the next three or four months. All being well, the Stratellite will then go into production next year.

Excited investor Muriel Sigala enthused at the launch beano in the southern California desert: "Every time a call drops while someone is driving through the mountains, I say, 'Oh, don't worry, once Sanswire gets up there we won't have this problem'." ®

*Related to Kevlar, apparently. Tough as old boots but pricey.

Bootnote

*Not related to Kevlar after all. Take it away Arthur Chance:

Spectra is a seriously tough and strong fibre like Kevlar, but that's as close as they're related. Kevlar is a para-aramid fibre (long molecular chains produced from poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide). Spectra is Ultra High Molecular Weight (UHMW) polyethylene, aka well known polythene - sort of plastic bags on steroids.

[FX: dismounts hobby horse, removes anorak, feigns sanity.]

Those Stratellite specs in full:

  • Length: 245 feet
  • Width: 145 feet
  • Height: 87 feet
  • Volume: 1.3 million cubic feet
  • Dual envelopes, both made of Kevlar
  • Powered by electric motors
  • Outer envelope covered in film photovoltaic (solar) units
  • Payload capacity: 3,000 pounds
  • Maximum altitude: 70,000 feet
  • Desired altitude: 65,000 feet
  • Proprietary Lifting Gas Technology
  • Held in position by six onboard GPS units connected to the ship’s engines
  • Line-of-sight to a 300,000 square mile area
  • Wireless capability (currently) to an area with a radius of 200 miles
  • Controlled by earth stations on the ground
  • Maximum duration: 18 months (a replacement ship will be in position prior to bringing original ship down for retrofitting. The original ship will return to its position after retrofitting).
  • Each airship is 100% reclaimable

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