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Billions of people around the world are still without internet access. A new communications payload was developed for a solar-powered unmanned aircraft system that flies in the stratosphere, the second major layer of Earth’s atmosphere. The HAWK30 UAV is designed for stratospheric telecommunications for the enhancement of connectivity and bring more people, places, and devices online.
The unmanned aircraft is manufactured by HAPSMobile, a SoftBank subsidiary, which is collaborating in this project with Loon, a Google subsidiary. The payload technology in use on Loon’s stratospheric balloons has been adapted for the HAWK30.
Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, delivering connectivity to people in unserved and underserved communities around the world. The payload serves the internet to a large number of smartphone users at a long distance from existing ground infrastructure.
The UAV is designed to fly approximately 20km above ground, at speeds of more than 100 km/h, according to insideunmannedsystems.com. Winds in the stratosphere can reach speeds of 100km/h and temperatures can drop to as low as -90 degrees celsius.
The communications payload effectively serves as a stratospheric cell tower. Millimeter-wave communication systems provide the backhaul links connecting the UAV to a physical internet access point on the ground, and enable multiple vehicles to connect with one another in the stratosphere. The payload houses highly accurate antennas that are capable of establishing point-to-point (P2P) connections at distances of up to 700 kilometers and carrying data at speeds up to 1Gbps. To keep a stable connection, the antenna rotates as the UAV moves. The companies created an aerodynamic housing to protect the antenna. In addition, the improved communications payload uses a custom-designed LTE system that gives HAWK30 the capability to deliver LTE connectivity to phones and other devices.