News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Broadband Out of the Stratosphere


As mentioned above, the distance to satellites introduces a delay with the receiving dish on the ground. After clicking a link on a webpage, users of satellite broadband notice a split second pause followed by the sudden and rapid download of the new page. For general browsing of the Internet, listening to audio, and watching video, this is not a major hindrance. However, other applications like online gaming and voice-over-IP require little or no latency at all to work effectively. Imagine trying to play a rapid shooting game over the net with any sort of delay. You just cannot win.

Sanswire Networks is developing an interesting solution to the problem. Instead of launching satellites into space, they plan to launch “stratellite” airships into the stratosphere (perhaps as high as 13 miles up). The latency of a roundtrip signal from ground to stratellite would be insignificant for most if not all Internet applications.

The company successfully conducted a trial of their technology using a helicopter instead of a stratellite, the first of which has not yet been built. Testers were able to surf the Internet and make telephone calls to colleagues in other countries. Sanswire Networks plans to announce a construction and launch schedule for its stratellites soon. If successful, stratellites would hover above a fixed location and provide a stationary platform for Internet, cellular, HDTV, and other telecommunications uses. After 18 months a replacement stratellite would be sent up and the original brought down for retrofitting before returning to duty. In effect, the technology would act like a 13 mile high cellular tower with ground coverage the size of Texas, though the company plans on placing one stratellite over each major metropolitan area.

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