Broadband By Blimp Company Still Full Of Hot Air

from the oh-god-the-network-is-down dept

For going on five years now a company named Sanswire Networks has been issuing press releases every six months or so, promising the world broadband via “Stratellites“; giant airships positioned 64,000 feet up, able to provide broadband and wireless service to a land mass roughly the size of Texas. Despite the fact they’ve never actually built or launched one, they’ve boldly proclaimed that a Stratellite should cost roughly $30 million to launch, compared to a satellite’s $250 million launch price-tag. After years of empty promises and talk of South American launches that never actually happened, the first prototype was unveiled last April, with ongoing testing the past several months. These latest tests leave plenty to be desired. They’re conducted in tame 3 mph California winds, last just hours, and the airships used are a fifth the size of what was supposed to be delivered. They also fail to mention exactly how high the airship was — so we’ll assume not very. That’s a far cry from an airship that can intelligently sit at 12 miles up for 18 months at a time, offering low latency broadband to the happy campers below. The company says the tests were conducted in “ideal conditions”, but a sunny, windless day doesn’t seem like the ideal testbed for a company really looking to prove the viability of this sort of product. The company’s latest press release also says the tethered test “demonstrates the effectiveness of delivering communications via the processes the Company had all along envisioned.” Demonstrating that VoIP works from a toy balloon floating in the California sun is light-years away from proving that “blimpband’ is an idea fit for serious commercial deployment.

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Comments on “Broadband By Blimp Company Still Full Of Hot Air”

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Enrico Suarve says:

Sounds OK to me

What exactly is your problem with these things?

Sounds like a pretty viable, albeit insane concept to me. Bloody huge airship goes very high and contains more or less the same technology on board as a traditional satellite

As its closer to the ground the signal strength required to communicate effectively with it is less and therefore uses less power. Since its effectively a big balloon I would imagine it’s a damn site more environmentally friendly than the alternative (I am no chemist but I am pretty sure those lovely white clouds coming out of a shuttle at lift off will kill you)

5 Years doesn’t seem like too long for a prototype either. My granddad and his mates were getting V2’s thrown at them in 1944 by that nice Mr Hitler – it wasn’t till 1957 that the Russians shoved a satellite into space. Some ideas take longer to germinate (especially very expensive ideas)

As for testing on a prototype in calm winds this seems sensible to me and is the normal way testing works, you start easy then work your way up. What’s launching the first one into the eye of a tornado, then seeing it instantly destroyed due to a minor fault which would have been merely an annoyance at 3mph going to tell you? (Other than that your testing engineer is an idiot)

The whole thing also smells like a 1950s cartoon – bad guys are bound to hijack them and only a jet-packed hero can save the day – great stuff

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re: Sounds OK to me

Other than that, it’s pure H2O. They use liquid O2 and H2 as fuel, making it entirely environmentally friendly.

Sorry – wrong

the orbiters main engines do use O2 and H2 as fuel so you are right in that respect

Those huge external boosters however use aluminium as the fuel, ammonium perchlorate as the oxidiser and iron oxide as a catalyst

In all honesty I have no idea what that produces in any quantity (at least some of it probably is water) but rather you than me breathing it in!

The shuttle itself has to spend 10minutes on the tarmac after landing to allow in part for poisonous hydrazine gas produced by the maneuvouring engines to dissipate before the astonauts can disembark

So much as I love the space shuttle for a variety of reasons, environmentally friendly isn’t one of them

pudro says:


“they’ve boldly proclaimed that a Stratellite should cost roughly $30 million to launch, compared to a satellite’s $250 million launch price-tag.”

“an airship that can intelligently sit at 12 miles up for 18 months at a time”

How long do satellites last? Because at 12.5 years you are launching enough blimps that the launches cost is at least as much – but you are serving a much smaller area. I would think that the benefits of other costs being lower would be negated by this.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Cost?

From reading the blurb I think they mean that it £30M to build one and get it up there the first time not £30M per launch of the same craft

18months appears to be how long they think they can keep one airborne before bring it back down for refuelling and maintenance then shoving it back up

Hence you aren’t going to be spending £30M / 18months (not everything is disposable!)

And incidentally that’s another saving – if something goes a bit wrong or a new technology comes out which could be a worthwhile addition, bring it back down to the ground and sort it

I have no idea how much it costs to send a man into space with a spanner but I’ll bet it’s not cheap

FLJerseyBoy says:

Re: wing-shear

Er, I think the mere company name — Sanswire — answers this question.

Still, this does seem like a technology we wouldn’t want to be too successful. I picture the high-altitude winds eventually shoving all the Stratellites into, like, big clusters in the sky. Kid of the late 21st century, lying on his back and directing his playmate’s attention upwards: “I think that one looks like a cluster of skin cells!”

misanthropic humanist says:


Plenty plus points to this idea, but it’s a difficult engineering task. The round trip latency will be smaller, which is a problem with geostationary sats. And like Enrico says, maintainance is going to be cheaper too.

But how do you get around fast (relative) winds, that’s the problem. Even if it’s calm at ground level the air up there can be moving fast.
I don’t see why it has to be so high. Just 1000m would be enough to give line of sight coverage to an average city. In the end I think normal ground based Wi-Max type technology will trump this.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

What about wind?

hello! its awefully windy up there.
Trying to keep something that size and that high up stationary is near impossible. You will spend your entire weight on fuel to keep the airship/blimp somewhat over the target area.

These guys must have never heard of the jet stream or any other high-altitude turbulence.

These guys are adding to the ‘wind’ down here.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: What about wind?

To be honest I kinda think that a company specialising in blimps probably knows more about the requirements and altitudes than any of us do?

They’ve got a reasonable explanation of the speed of wind vs. altitude here

13Knots which they seem to state is the average around 65,000ft is about 24kph (15mph give or take) so not too crazy

All in all there would probably be a whole lot less of them in the sky at any one time than there are currently planes, running primarily on solar energy (apparently), providing services to traditionally difficult to wire (or relay) areas in a manner that is more reusable and less environmentally damaging than satellites – good luck to them if they can get it to work

Gary (user link) says:

How would I do it...

Hummm lots of noise about this, I think if I wanted to set up a system I might look for an off the shelf solution.

This might not cover an area the size of Texas, because it does not have the height but it sure would cover one city one shot.

It also has the advantage of sending power up a cable.

I know we ballooning types are slow in modern times but we have been experimenting for at least 130 years more than those noisy Johnnie come lately aircraft types.


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