Can high wi-fi boost space elevator?
Balloon test could open path for Internet access in remote areas
Alan Boyle on MSNBC.com:
A company that someday hopes to build the first space elevator says it is testing a system that could take it to a lower-altitude goal along the way: balloon-based wireless data services.
The LiftPort Group, based in Bremerton, Wash., is in the midst of a two-month test to see if a balloon-based platform, moored to the ground, can serve as a reliable relay for Internet traffic in remote areas — serving “the guys that everybody else forgot,” said the company’s founder and president, Michael Laine.
The idea is that this test will not only help pave the way to space elevators, but it will be a viable and money-making technology along the way. That’s the way to go. Even if the space elevator chase ends up going in a different direction, there is still the potential for gains in other areas.
In the shorter term, LiftPort has been casting around for ways to apply the technological building blocks of the space elevator scheme to more grounded pursuits. Laine said his company already has a client for the technology: Lightspeed Broadband, a wireless Internet access provider based in Port Angeles, Wash.
“These guys are actually going to pay for this system now, under development,” Laine said.
Lightspeed’s president, Jamie Aggen, told MSNBC.com that his fledgling company hoped to use balloon-lofted signal relays to weave meshes of wireless Internet and voice-over-Internet services — initially across the Kitsap Peninsula, and eventually in other areas as well. Aggen said the system also could be used to facilitate “quick, early response to disaster areas,” with last year’s Hurricane Katrina devastation serving as a prime example…
LiftPort’s concept is relatively low-tech and low-altitude, essentially relying on clusters of weather balloons held in place by a network of tethers. For this summer’s test, the balloons are floating above a privately owned apple orchard, Laine said. Once the balloons rise to the 500-foot level, “we’re expecting the FAA to get calls about UFOs,” he said.
“If it works till the end of September … we’re going to ask for an extension” from the FAA, he said.
The fact that these “towers” will move about with the wind will probably be cause for concern with the FAA and military aviation organizations. Let’s hope that things can be worked out. In any event, important lessons are sure to be learned.