Starlink has been making tremendous progress towards providing world-wide access to broadband Internet access, but there are a number of downsides to satellite-based internet such as the cluttering of low-Earth orbit, high expense, and moodiness of CEO. There are some alternatives if standard Internet access isn’t available, and one of the more ambitious is providing Internet access by balloon. Project Loon is perhaps the most famous of these (although now defunct), but it’s also possible to skip the middleman and build your own high-altitude balloon capable of connection speeds of 500 Kbps.
[Stephen] has been working on this project for a few months and while it doesn’t support a full Internet connection, the downlink on the high altitude balloon is fast enough to send high-resolution images in near-real-time. This is thanks to a Raspberry Pi Zero on board the balloon that is paired with an STM32 board which handles the radio communication on a RF4463 transceiver module. The STM32 acts as an intermediary or buffer to ensure reliable information is sent out on the radio, rather than using the Pi directly. [Stephen] also wrote a large chunk of the software responsible for handling all of these interactions, optimized for balloon flight specifically.
The blog post for this project was written a few weeks ago with a reported first launch date for the system already passed, so we will eagerly anticipate the results and the images he was able to gather using this system. Eventually [Stephen] hopes the downlink will be fast enough for video as well.Balloons are an underappreciated tool as well, and this isn’t the only way that they can be used to help send radio signals from place to place.