Airborne base-station

Inexpensive alternative to broadband satellite communications


Although the world has made great advancements with regard to the wireless industry, there is still a large problem of providing wireless services to remote areas and a delay when using geosynchronous satellite communications. Satellites are typically large, heavy, and expensive to manufacture and deploy. In addition, while a satellite’s electromagnetic signals travel at the speed of light, there is constant back and forth communication across a great distance. The time it takes for a signal to travel back and forth multiple times introduces delays to the wireless system, leading to stress on the high-demand of the data transfer process. As such, there is a need to create a system that can shorten the delays caused by a large communication distance.

This invention is an airborne base-station consisting of an antenna, radio, and router attached to a lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicle such as a balloon. The base-station incorporates a lightweight, high gain, electronically steerable antenna, bringing the total weight of the electronics package under a single pound. This reduces the cost, overall weight, complexity, and size of the base-station while improving communication capabilities. By using LTA vehicles in strategic locations at lower altitudes, the invention drastically reduces the communication signal’s travel distance from over 35,000 km (satellite distance) to around 20 km, and the area that the signal reaches multiplies. Shortening the distance also reduces delays in transmitting and receiving communication signals.

An invention of this kind has multiple real-world and practical applications. For example, large corporations are launching massive efforts to provide internet to parts of the world that currently do not have access to its services. Google recently launched Project Loon, which uses LTA vehicles to provide more efficient communication and internet services, and Facebook is experimenting with high-altitude solar-powered drones to further expand internet service. The airborne base-station can be used for the same applications as these emerging and potentially lucrative technologies.

An air-to-ground link using a Navy developed steerable antenna was successfully tested. The airborne platform was equipped with the antenna and distributed amplifiers, while the land node had a non-amplified, omni-directional antenna. The test was conducted at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Studies using their Pelican platform, a manned surrogate for the Predator autonomous airplane.

This patent is related to US patent 8,248,317.

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