Stratsat proves more than hot air

Use of airships to replace satellites for communication links moved a step nearer following an agreement between a UK-led consortium and a Malaysian investment fund.

The consortium is to develop a business plan by January for a communications system based on the Stratsat concept, developed by the Advanced Technologies Group in Bedford. If approved, the system could lead to a £100m Malaysian government-funded programme.

The Stratsat concept would use unmanned airships at 65,000ft. With solar energy to provide power both for the communications equipment and electric propulsion motors, the airships would be able to stay on station for five years or more at a time. A backup diesel engine would be used to cope with unusually high winds.

The airships would carry transponders for mobile phones, TV broadcasts, broadband internet and surveillance. The system eliminates the need for mobile phone masts on the ground and would cost a fraction as much as conventional satellites.

ATG has been developing airships for uses including heavy lifting and passenger transport as well as Stratsat.

The company claims to have eliminated the problems that beset airships early last century, using advanced composite fabrics for the envelope, ducted propellers to provide directional thrust, and a bow thruster jet for manoeuvring while landing, eliminating the need for teams of ground staff.

The consortium also includes Marconi, QinetiQ and Raytheon of the US.