HAPSMobile and stratospheric balloon developer Loon have announced that the two companies have successfully developed a communications payload for HAPSMobile’s HAWK30, a solar-powered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that flies in the stratosphere. Engineering teams from the two firms worked together to adapt the payload technology already used on Loon’s stratospheric balloons for the UAV.
Loon’s communications payloads are capable of enduring the difficult conditions of the stratosphere for long periods of time. Stratospheric winds can reach speeds of 100km/h and temperatures can drop to as low as -90 degrees celsius.
The HAWK30 UAV’s communications payload serves as a stratospheric cell tower, with millimeter wave backhaul links that connect the aircraft to a physical internet access point on the ground, and also allow multiple vehicles to connect with one another in the stratosphere. The payload’s antennas are capable of establishing point-to-point (P2P) connections at distances of up to 700 kilometers and carrying data at speeds up to 1Gbps, and are designed to rotate in flight to maintain a stable connection. On Loon’s stratospheric balloons, this technology has already been proven to reliably maintain a stable connection to the ground and nearby aircraft. In recent testing, Loon established and maintained a connection among 20 balloons spanning over 4,000 kilometers.
The HAWK30 UAV is designed to fly at speeds of more than 100 km/h, and so the balloon communication system had to be adapted in order to accommodate these significantly higher flight speeds. Software improvements allow the antenna to rotate more quickly and track more rapid movements, and a new aerodynamic housing protects the antennas from the forces brought on by increased flight velocity.
The payload utilizes a custom-designed LTE system that operates on various 3GPP-compliant frequency bands, allowing the UAV to provide a wireless link that enables LTE connectivity directly to standard LTE smartphones and other mobile devices. In combination with the millimeter wave communication system, this will allow the HAWK30 to provide internet connectivity to a large number of smartphone users at a long distance from existing ground infrastructure.
Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, commented: “This is an important step in our partnership with HAPSMobile. The stratosphere represents an untapped area of opportunity when it comes to expanding connectivity. Loon is working to leverage our significant experience building and operating stratospheric technology to develop a new layer of connectivity that will fill the gaps between ground-based and space-based systems. With HAPSMobile, we’ve found a partner who shares our enthusiasm for this new frontier. We look forward to continuing to work together to develop this new industry and connect people everywhere to the benefits of the internet.”
Junichi Miyakawa, Representative Director & CTO of SoftBank Corp., and also President & CEO of HAPSMobile, stated: “We are very pleased that our strategic relationship with Loon is already bearing fruit. Our jointly developed communications payload represents an important step forward in our efforts to realize stratosphere-based communications and promote the adoption of HAPS. In partnership with Loon, we will continue to develop technologies for HAPS with the aim of revolutionizing the world’s mobile networks.”