Reporting on information-economy doom and gloom day after day can get downright depressing, so it's no surprise that a number of reporters raised their eyes to cover a success story in the high blue sky. The record-breaking test flight of a remotely piloted, solar-powered aircraft built by a NASA-industry consortium might even be important to the future of telecom last-mile coverage.
The experimental aircraft Helios Prototype, designed and built by an industry consortium in cooperation with NASA, set altitude records yesterday. An AP report said that Helios reached a high of 96,500 feet, breaking the previous records for both propeller-driven aircraft (80,200 feet) and non-rocket craft (85,068 feet).
A Reuters story, filed just after the craft lifted off, gave a good overview of the project's background and plans, including its relevance to the telecom business. "It is intended to function like a 'poor man's satellite,' providing telecommunications and other services at a fraction of the cost of launching a satellite into orbit," Reuters wrote.
Max Smetannikov, writing for Interactive Week, centered his piece on the idea of using pilotless aircraft to deliver last-mile broadband services. The reporter interviewed an official at SkyTower Telecommunication, a subsidiary of solar-powered vehicle pioneer AeroVironment, which designed Helios. Smetannikov wrote that a plane such as Helios, circling over a city for months at a time, could "supply data rates of 1.5 megabits per second to 125 Mbps for a single user" with 30-millisecond latency "comparable to that of fiber optics." A blue-sky picture if ever there was one.
NASA's solar wing sets record for non-rocket aircraft
NASA Plane Lifts Off, Seeking Altitude Record
Solar craft sets altitude record
It's a plane, it's broadband