Some of the biggest names in technology have offered their help in rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The newest name on the list? The X division of Alphabet, who want to help fill the huge communications gap using Project Loon, their high-altitude balloon network. It looks like X is going to get their wish, as they have just been granted license from the FCC to deploy LTE cell coverage to both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The plan is to launch 30 balloons that will act as a network of floating cell towers to radiate an LTE signal originating from the ground. This coverage would be a great boon to a devastated communications infrastructure, but it won’t be a cakewalk to implement. Some handsets of both major persuasions will require a temporary over-the-air update before they can use Project Loon’s network. For phones that can’t operate on Band 8, it won’t work at all. Even so, it’s a great start.
Now you would think that an emergency communications restoration plan like this would be met by all parties with open arms and a circle of pats on the back, but this solution requires a lot of cooperation. One of the major hurdles was to secure spectrum rights from some if not all of the incumbent wireless carriers. Miraculously, eight of them have agreed to hand over their bandwidth. Another issue is that the FCC license is only good for six months, although they would probably entertain an extension given the circumstances. Finally, the dual ownership of the Virgin Islands makes the situation even more complicated, as X must agree not to infringe upon the wireless coverage footprint of the British Virgin Islands.
Signals Intelligence (SigInt) isn’t something that you normally associate with home hackers, but the Deep Sweep project is looking to change that: it is a balloon platform that captures radio signals in the stratosphere, particularly conversations between drones and satellites. Created by three students at the Frank Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie-Mellon, Deep Sweep is a platform that is attached to a balloon and which captures signals over a wide range of frequencies, logging them for later analysis. The current version captures data on three frequency bands: LF/HF (10KHz-30KHz), UHF (650 – 1650MHz) and SHF (10-20GHz). The latter are often the bands used for satellite links between drones and satellites. They are difficult to intercept from the ground, as the signals are directed upwards towards the satellite. By creating a platform that can fly several kilometers above the earth, they are hoping to be able to capture some of this elusive traffic.
So far, the team has made two flights in Europe, both of which encountered technical issues. The first had a battery fault and only captured 10 minutes of data, and the second flew further than expected and ended up in Belarus, a country that isn’t likely to welcome this kind of thing. Fortunately, they were able to recover the balloon and are working on future launches in Europe and the USA. It will be interesting to see how the Department of Homeland Security feels about this.
It’s always exciting to see the photos from High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) outings. While it’s no surprise that the Raspi is a popular choice—low cost, convenient USB jacks, etc.—this is the first build we’ve seen that uses an OLED during the trip to show real-time data on-screen to be picked up by the on-board webcam. (Though you may have to squint to see it at the bottom middle of the above image).
[Fabrice’s] payload made it to 26,000m, and the screen he chose, an ILSOFT OLED, performed admirably despite the extreme conditions suffered (temperatures can reach -50C). The last time we saw a near-space Raspi payload was a couple of years ago, when [Dave Akerman] was closing in on UK balloon altitude records. [Dave] hasn’t stopped launching balloons, either, testing new trackers and radio modules, as well as his most recent build that sent a Superman action figure to the skies—all recorded in glorious HD.
Check out both [Dave] and [Fabrice’s] blogs for loads of pictures documenting the latest in High Altitude Ballooning, and stay with us after the jump for a quick video of [Fabrice’s] OLED in action.
Continue reading “Throwing Pis Into The Stratosphere”