August 31, 2006 The U.S. Air Force Space Command Space & Missile Systems Center's Development and Test Wing has announced a significant investment in Space Data Corporation’s near space communications system. Offering an important improvement in battlefield communications, the system has been extensively tested by the Air Force Space Battlelab over the past two years. The Space Data system utilizes a balloon-borne platform that takes advantage of the very predictable winds in near space to position communications equipment 20 miles above the earth. The Battlelab tests included using the same tactical radios carried by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The results showed that ground-to-ground voice and data communications could be extended from 10 miles to over 400 miles.
The GPS-equipped platforms can be launched from the back of a Humvee, for example, and once at altitude provide excellent communications over thousands of square miles.
The Battlelab tests included using the same tactical radios carried by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The results showed that ground-to-ground voice and data communications could be extended from 10 miles to over 400 miles using Space Data's balloon-borne payloads. Likewise, the Space Data technology significantly improved communications between troops on the ground and pilots flying air support. Further tests were conducted this year as part of the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment--a biennial event sponsored by the Air Force Chief of Staff to test the latest war fighting technologies. Additional advantages identified by the military included ease of launch and the ability to quickly adapt payloads for specific warfighter needs.
"Near space" is defined as 65,000 to 135,000 feet above the earth--higher than airplanes fly, but lower than satellites.
The Near Space Communications System US$49 Million contract is a five-year "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" arrangement that permits the Space & Missile Systems Center to order Space Data equipment as needed. Space Data will also provide training in using the equipment for military personnel.
A commercial version of the Space Data 's technology called a SkySite platform has provided digital communications service to the energy industry for more than two years. The SkySite system operates over the South-central and Southwestern United States and allows energy firms to monitor and control equipment remotely. At 20 miles above the earth, the Space Data technology is well above weather systems. It provided uninterrupted service throughout last year's hurricane season, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For this reason public safety agencies and emergency management officials are also evaluating the advantages of near space communications for domestic uses.