This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Exploiting It

Sep 14 2001 07:37 AM PDT

The media expose the scams and the opportunism that have arisen in the wake of Tuesday's attack.

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 (AP)

NASA Plane Lifts Off, Seeking Altitude Record
ABCNews (Reuters)

Solar craft sets altitude record

It's a plane, it's broadband