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Big Blimp Stratospheric Communications Platform Concept Returns

Over the last ten years, there have been several proposals for placing large, lighter-than-air high altitude airships in the stratosphere above the jet-stream and using them to provide a stable platform for regional area wireless communications without the cost and latency problems associated with geostationary satellites. While lower altitude tethered blimps such as the one that was used for broadcasting TV Marti to Cuba have been used successfully, I haven't heard of any deployment of the high altitude airships. A strategic partnership between the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Auxilia, Inc. could lead to the commercialization of high altitude airships.

Development of high-altitude airships (HAAs) is being driven by their potential to fill homeland security needs for port security and border monitoring, as well as emergency first responder communications. Dr. Donald H. Sebastian, V.P. for research and development at NJIT explained, "Electronics platforms carried by HAAs are key to a new infrastructure for globally extending wireless transmission of converged high speed, high bandwidth voice, video and digital data. Airships can lift electronic equipment payloads into the stratosphere, above the jet stream, to an altitude of 70,000 feet."

According to the news release announcing the partnership, "Research has shown that winds at this elevation are relatively low so that solar powered propeller motors can position an airship to any global geographic location with GPS accuracy and even keep it stationary for periods potentially exceeding one year. An airship platform can thus function as a floating transmitter with a line of sight radio reach that covers a ground area greater than 600 miles in diameter. HAAs will cost substantially less than satellites and unlike satellites, they can safely return to earth for equipment upgrading. These characteristics open new vistas for global communications." Sebastian said first generation HAAs are unmanned, helium-filled vehicles 25 times the size of the Goodyear blimp.

For more information, see the news release NJIT Announces Partnership for High Altitude Airship Commercialization and the Science Blog article Giant blimps to provide port security.