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High Altitude Aeronautical Platforms

Affordable bandwidth will be as essential to the Information Revolution in the21 st century as inexpensive power was to the Industrial Revolution in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Today's global communications infrastructures of landlines, cellular towers, and satellites are inadequately equipped to support the increasing worldwide demand for faster, better, and less expensive service. At a time when conventional ground and satellite systems are facing increasing obstacles and spiraling costs, a low cost solution is being advocated.

This paper focuses on airborne platforms- airships, planes, helicopters or some hybrid solutions which could operate at stratospheric altitudes for significant periods of time, be low cost and be capable of carrying sizable multipurpose communications payloads. This report briefly presents an overview about the internal architecture of a High Altitude Aeronautical Platform and the various HAAPS projects.

High Altitude Aeronautical Platform Stations (HAAPS) is the name of a technology for providing wireless narrowband and broadband telecommunication services as well as broadcasting services with either airships or aircrafts. The HAAPS are operating at altitudes between 3 to 22 km. A HAPS shall be able to cover a service area of up to 1'000 km diameter, depending on the minimum elevation angle accepted from the user's location. The platforms may be airplanes or airships (essentially balloons) and may be manned or un-manned with autonomous operation coupled with remote control from the ground. While the term HAP may not have a rigid definition, we take it to mean a solar-powered and unmanned airplane or airship, capable of long endurance on-station -possibly several years.

Various types of platform options exist: SkyStation™, the Japanese Stratospheric Platform Project, the European Space Agency (ESA) and others suggest the use of airships/blimps/dirigibles. These will be stationed at 21km and are expected to remain aloft for about 5 years. Angel Technologies (HALO™), AeroVironment/ NASA (Helios) and the European Union (Heliplat) propose the use of high altitude long endurance aircraft. The aircraft are either engine or solar powered and are stationed at 16km (HALO) or 21km (Helios). Helios is expected to stay aloft for a minimum of 6 months whereas HALO will have 3 aircraft flying in 8- hour shifts. Platforms Wireless International is implementing a tethered aerostat situated at ~6km.

A high altitude telecommunication system comprises an airborne platform - typically at high atmospheric or stratospheric altitudes - with a telecommunications payload, and associated ground station telecommunications equipment. The combination of altitude, payload capability, and power supply capability makes it ideal to serve new and metropolitan areas with advanced telecommunications services such as broadband access and regional broadcasting.

The opportunities for applications are virtually unlimited. The possibilities range from narrowband services such as paging and mobile voice to interactive broadband services such as multimedia and video conferencing. For future telecommunications operators such a platform could provide blanket coverage from day one with the added advantage of not being limited to a single service. Where little or unreliable infrastructure exists, traffic could be switched through air via the HAPS platform. Technically, the concept offers a solution to the propagation and rollout problems of terrestrial infrastructure and capacity and cost problems of satellite networks.


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