HIGH ALTITUDE PLATFORM OPPORTUNITY
Avealto Ltd., has completed the feasibility testing and design to create a commercially viable High Altitude Platform (HAP) designed to support high value telecommunications payloads. The successful completion of this development will open markets presently valued at over US$ 121 Billion worldwide, and create new markets due to the unique characteristics of High Altitude Platforms.
The Avealto HAP will remain in a stationary position at an altitude of 20 to 25 kilometers and will perform the same functions as telecommunication satellites. Individual satellites are expensive and the quality of service they provide is constrained by latency (propagation delays) and bandwidth limitations. A HAP can perform most telecommunications functions better than satellites and at a much lower cost.
HAPs can rapidly deliver broadband capacity exactly where needed, particularly in underserved areas, at a fraction of the cost of satellites. HAPs can serve remote areas where traditional ground-based infrastructure cannot easily reach, or would be too expensive to profitably deliver. Unlike satellites, HAPs can be provisioned in days rather than years, to serve market needs responsively.
A high capacity telecommunication satellite can cost as much as US$300 Million to build and launch. Any failure must be resolved with another massive investment and years to build and launch a replacement satellite. Each individual Avealto HAP will cost less than US$1.4 Million to build and deploy. With multiple vehicles deployed, no single technical failure or accident can have a critical impact.
The Avealto HAP will remain on station for at least six months. At the end of each “mission cycle” the vehicle can be landed (after handover to its partner vehicle) to be serviced, refurbished and upgraded as required. Such adaptability is not possible with telecommunications satellites where a failure on orbit can cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Avealto can leverage existing ground-based satellite infrastructure. To a ground station, a HAP appears to be just another satellite. An existing satellite antenna will only need to be re-pointed towards an Avealto HAP in order to enjoy a lower cost and a higher quality of service. Existing satellite customers will be able to substantially reduce telecom costs without additional capital investment.
The global telecom satellite industry generated US$121 Billion in revenues in year 2014 and is growing at an annual rate of 3%.
Avealto HAPs are a viable alternative to existing telecommunications satellite services in many market segments due to the significantly lower cost, lower latency and lower error rate. HAPs will be able to capture a share of the US$ 5 Trillion annual telecommunication revenue which can’t profitably be served by satellites.
Avealto has conducted extensive meetings with leading experts in the aeronautics and telecommunications industries to understand the current technical, commercial and regulatory situation with regard to HAPs.
CURRENT TELECOMUNICATIONS TRANSMISSION TECHNOLOGIES
A HAP operating in the stratosphere has unique characteristics which make it the best option, in both cost and quality, to provide certain types of telecommunications services.
The Avealto HAP will both complement and compete with many existing telecommunication services. The Avealto HAP will open up completely new markets that could not be effectively served before.
Geosynchronous Orbit Satellites (GEOSATs) orbit directly over the equator at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles). Their orbital speed is allows them to remain over the exact same position as the earth turns. This allows a ground based antenna to be fixed in position to send and receive radio signals to and from the satellite.
A high powered GEOSAT now costs over US$ 300 Million to build and launch to geosynchronous orbit. Launch failure is a constant risk. Most GEOSATs have an average on orbit lifetime of 12 years. GEOSATs cannot be serviced or upgraded while on station.
Due to the orbital distance from earth, a GEOSAT signal will have a very high latency or propagation delay. This is highly noticeable on voice calls transmitted by satellite. This 500 millisecond second delay also reduces the effectiveness of error correction for data transmissions which can severely limited the capacity of bandwidth.
LOW EARTH ORBIT SATELLITES
Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEOSATs) travel in orbit closer to the earth. To maintain orbit they must travel at a higher speed and change their position relative to the ground very quickly.
A LEOSAT requires less signal strength to send a radio signal to the earth since it is orbiting closer to the earth. LEOSATs support less bandwidth than GEOSATs.
A large number of LEOSATS are needed to provide complete coverage so that one is always overhead.
Iridium and Globalstar currently operate a constellation of satellites. Each LEOSAT spends a large part of its orbit over areas where there are few or no potential users.
FIBER OPTIC CABLE
Fiber Optic cables can carry a very large amount of bandwidth. In very high density areas or between major population centers fiber optic cables can be the best option.
Fiber Optic lines link major cities in much of the world. Fiber Optic cables going undersea and overland connect most major population centers in the world.
Fiber Optic cables are costly to install and maintain. They are cost effective when a large amount of bandwidth is needed between the points served. They may not be cost effective when smaller amount of capacity need to be delivered to multiple points.
Fiber Optic systems must have regenerative equipment at regular intervals along their route to re-amplify the light signals used to send data.
Microwaves are widely used for point-to-point communications because their small wavelength allows conveniently-sized antennas to direct them in narrow beams, which can be pointed directly at the receiving antenna.
Point-to-point terrestrial microwave can provide a significant amount of bandwidth between any two points that have a direct line of sight.
Microwave can be used in instances where ground based obstructions or legal right of way issues prevent the use of fiber Optic cables.
Many mobile telecom operators use Terrestrial Microwave to link their cell towers back to a main switch. Microwave links become less cost effective to link cell towers serving a small number of users.
To cover large distances with terrestrial microwave requires multiple links (hops) with radio equipment at each link point.
A disadvantage is that microwaves are limited to line of sight propagation; they cannot pass through buildings, hills or mountains.
ELEMENTS OF HIGH ALTITUDE PLATFORM TECHNOLOGY
There is a limited part of radio spectrum that is allocated for satellites. To maximize the use of these limited frequencies the antennas used to link to these satellites to the antennas are highly directional and the GEOSATs are spaced very closely together in orbit.
If a ground antenna is pointed even 1 degree off, it may receive signals from the wrong satellite. The technology for satellite antennas has been established over a long period of time and are standardized worldwide
SATELLITE STATION KEEPING
A geosynchronous satellite must remain with a very limited zone called a “box”, in order to be linked effectively with the antennas on the ground pointed to it.
A HAP can use the same type of highly directional antennas as a GEOSAT and must remain in relatively the same position at all times. To do that it must move against the prevailing wind so that it is effectively stationary to the earth below.
Lighter than air vehicles have a long history. These vehicles normally operate from 152 Meters (500 feet) to 7,620 meters (25,000 feet). The changing weather conditions at these low altitudes is challenging for safe and predictable operations. Wind speeds at altitudes below 18,000 meters (59,000 feet) are highly variable.
A HAP operating at an altitude of 20 to 25 kilometers (65,600 to 82,000 feet), in the stratosphere, is way above the “weather”. The environment at those heights is relatively stable. The chart below shows wind speed dropping substantially at around 20 Kilometers and remaining under 8 meters per second (28 Km per hour/ 16 miles per hour) at up to 25 kilometers altitude.
Avealto is developing a Telecom Payload for the Ascender 60 Commercial High Altitude Platform vehicle.
This Telecom Payload is designed to operate on multiple frequency bands and will serve multiple market segments on a single HAP. Rather than an exotic customized system, commercially available components will be used to the greatest extent possible.
The Telecom payload is being developed in the United Kingdom through a combination of commercial partners. JP Aerospace will assist in incorporating the Telecom Payload it into the HAP vehicle.
HAP COVERAGE AREA
A HAP can perform the same functions as a geostationary satellite. In many instances, the HAP will have distinct advantage over satellite technologies.
At a height of 25 kilometers, a High Altitude Vehicle will have line of sight inside circle of around 565 kilometers (351 miles) in diameter. Due to topological obstacles and radio propagation characteristic, a realistic coverage area for each HAP is around 240 kilometers (150 miles) in diameter over most land areas and up to 480 Kilometers (300 miles) over oceans or plains (where the topology is flat).
To illustrate: A single HAP over the Panama Canal could provide Maritime Ku band services for all vessels in the Canal Zone, backhaul services to remote areas for a mobile phone operator, direct to home and office broadband internet to the most densely populated areas in Panama and other services in its coverage area. Three additional HAP vehicles could cover the rest of Central America.
BANDWIDTH & TRANSMISSION
A geosynchronous satellite orbits the earth at 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles). At that distance the power levels needed to send a radio signal to a small or medium antenna on earth are substantial. A Geostationary Satellite that provides high powered Ku or Ka band coverage must use large, heavy and power-hungry transponders to transmit enough power to the ground. Each transponder is limited to around 80 MHz of bandwidth so a number of these are needed to provide broadband coverage.
A HAP needs much less power to transmit the maximum allowable power to the ground. This is designated as “EIRP” (Equivalent Isotropically Radiated Power). A HAP (at 20 to 25 kilometers altitude) is hundreds of times closer to ground stations than a geosynchronous satellite.
This lower transmission power requirement will allow the Telecom Payload of a HAP to use lower power Field Effect Transistors (FETs) to create Solid State Power Amplifiers (SSPAs). SSPAs are significantly lighter that traditional satellite transponders and require much electrical power.
Improved electronics design technology has allowed the building and deployment of “Small Sats” which perform many functions previously reserved for very large satellites. The Telecom Package in the HAP can take advantage of these technical advances and practical design experiences.
Avealto will be able to use existing technologies to create an efficient and low cost Telecom Payload.
Most satellites have very limited space for their payloads. A lot of development time and design cost are spent in optimizing this limited space. HAPs have plenty of space on board for the Telecom Payload. The only factors that will need to be optimized are the weight and electrical power.
Satellites cannot be easily serviced in orbit. The HAP with 6 months on station, can be serviced and upgraded at regular intervals.
With each ground servicing, that the Telecom Payload can be optimized to handle additional capabilities and capacity.
TRANSPARENT REPLACEMENT OF GEOSTATIONARY SATELLITE FUNCTIONS
A HAP can transparently replace the functions of a GEOSAT.
Existing ground antennas and transceivers will not have to be replaced by a customer to obtain lower cost service provided by a HAP. The existing ground antenna will just need to be pointed a different direction. An Avealto HAP will function exactly like a GEOSAT satellite to the equipment on the ground.
The quality of communications on a HAP will be substantially better than a GEOSAT. Latency can be highly noticeable on voice calls made via satellite. The much shorter transmission distance will eliminate propagation delay or latency which is around 500 milliseconds on a Geo Sat.
Reduced latency can also substantially improve data transmission speed due to improved Forward Error Correction (“FEC”) and lower overall Bit Error Rates (BIR). The equivalent bandwidth on a HAP may be able to handle a much larger amount of data due to these factors.
GEOSATs cover large areas of the earth at a very high cost. A large portion of GEOSAT coverage area has few or no users.
SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGES OVER LEOSATS
Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEOSATs) orbit at an altitude between 160 Kilometers (99 miles) and 2,000 Kilometers (1,200 miles). Their orbital period is between 88 minutes to 127 minutes.
LEOSATS have smaller bandwidth capacity than GEOSATs. Multiple LEOSATs must be deployed to provide full coverage. As a LEOSAT moves around the earth, much of their coverage, at any moment in time is wasted over areas that have few or no users.
Due to the movement of LEOSATs, ground users require expensive antennas that can track the moving LEOSAT or require the LEOSAT to use non-directional transmission that wastes bandwidth and increases the cost of capacity.
LEOSATs also operate in an orbit zone that contains a lot of orbital debris. The field of space debris in low earth orbit has become increasingly risky to both satellites orbiting in that area and to manned vehicles. Collisions of existing orbital debris create additional debris in a cascade effect known as the Kessler Syndrome.
Unlike LEOSATS, HAPs can deliver a very large amount of bandwidth to a focused geographic area and can be placed where they are most valuable and most useful without any wasted resources
TELECOM PAYLOAD REQUIREMENTS
The Telecom Payload will have the following capabilities:
- Weight less than 50 kilograms including batteries for overnight operation
- Ku band capacity
- Ka band capacity
- Lightweight antennas with wide angle coverage
- Spot beam antennas
- Internal switching of channels or portions of channels
- USB Ports for connection (power and data) to other commercial payloads
- Interlink system to connect at least 2 other HAPs with very high speed communication connection (may be laser or microwave)
The Ku band and Ka band systems will be capable of replacing the functions of the Geosynchronous satellite and provide the maximum allowable power levels to the ground.
TELECOM PAYLOAD DESIGN STRATEGY
The initial Telecom Payload designed and implemented on the first Ascender 60 Commercial vehicle will be upgraded and improved many times before/during deployments.
Satellites have very limited space for their telecom payloads. Satellite electronics are usually custom crafted, one at a time, to fit the available space. Each one is unique. The HAP, while still having weight and power limitations, will have plenty of space for mounting the Telecom Payload elements. This will allow incremental improvements to be made easily to the Telecom Payload.
Avealto will have a rack based system similar to those found in data centers on the ground (but made from much lighter weight materials). This will simplify the design, maintenance and upgrades of the Telecom Payload.
A large portion of the Telecom Payload will be created from readily available components and systems. This will substantially reduce the cost of development for Telecom Payload.
A BIT OF HAP HISTORY
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY (ESA) – HIGH ALTITUDE LONG ENDURANCE (HALE)
The European Space Agency (ESA) undertook a study of on high altitude long endurance vehicles but did not invest in a full scale project. The results of the study however were positive. A press release issued by ESA in March of 2000 included the following statements:
In telecommunications, various applications can be envisaged. Located above a densely populated area, HALE airships could support future mobile multimedia services (voice, Internet, radio and TV broadcast) without the need for a network of antennas and ground-based relay stations. Remote meter reading (gas, water and electricity) is another possibility. Quick local observation and information could also make for more efficient traffic management.
ESA’s interest in HALEs is due to their relevance to a broad range of space technologies such as thin-film solar cells, inflatable technology, telecommunication equipment, astronomical instruments and various subsystems such as power management and distribution, steerable antennas, Earth observation sensors and radar imagers. Lightweight design, another typical area of space expertise, is particularly important to the development of HALE airships. Considerable effort is currently being put into assessing HALE’s business potential and market access while additional companies and institutions are considering to join the team and discussing their possible roles in the development and commercial exploitation. The ESA study material included the image below:
HELINET PROJECT – POLITECNICO DI TORINO
In 1999, a project coordinated by Politecnico di Torino, Italy, was awarded by the European Community.
The purpose of the project was to develop a small prototype solar powered plane that would be used for broadband communications; remote sensing; and, traffic localization.
CAPANINA PROJECT – UNIVERSITY OF YORK
Capanina was funded under the European VI framework program in 2003. The first year of a trial was based on a 300 meter tethered “aerostat” platform that took place in Pershore, United Kingdom. CAPANINA stood for Communications from Aerial Platform Networks Delivering Broadband Communications.
One interesting area of study in the project as research on how to deliver broadband to high speed trains (traveling up to 300 km/h).
Some the HAP related papers are cited below:
United Kingdom – The United Kingdom Government has recognized aerospace as a high value industry and have pledge efforts to support it. In a 2012 United Kingdom government report titled “ Lifting-off– Implementing the Strategic Vision for United Kingdom Aerospace”, the executive summary state in part:
“Aerospace is one of the jewels in the crown of the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector”
The ITU, an international treaty organization, coordinates the use of radio frequencies. National governments also regulate frequency use but most closely follow the ITU frequency allocations.
A High Altitude Vehicle can operate on the same L Band, X Band, C band, S Bands, Ku- and Ka Band frequencies now used by satellites A HAP will be able to reuse these frequencies without interfering with existing satellites. A HAP, located much closer to the ground than satellites, may also be able to use frequencies allocated for terrestrial communications.
Some frequencies have already been designated by the ITU-R for use by High Altitude Platforms:
- 48/47 GHz – 300 Mhz bandwidth in both directions
- 31/28 GHz – revived at WRC 07 to 300 Mhz in both directions – for use in over 40 countries worldwide (including all countries in North and South America, but excluding Europe)
- 2 GHz Worldwide to support IMT-200 from HAPs
- 6 GHz is under consideration on WRC 11 agenda for gateway link use for IMT-2000 use
(Source: BROADBAND COMMUNICATION – David Grace & Mihael Mohorcic)
Avealto will work cooperatively with the ITU and national telecom regulators to coordinate frequencies. A flexible use of available frequencies can eliminate the possibility of any interference by a HAP in existing satellite operations or terrestrial communications.
During the design process, the management of Avealto will begin the process of frequency coordination with appropriate organizations in the European Union and in other target jurisdictions. The ITU and European Union approval of frequencies will reduce the amount of efforts needed in a number of other counties to obtain regulatory approvals. Many developing countries adopt ITU frequency allocations.
Partnership relationships with telecom license holders in some jurisdictions may reduce the cost of frequency coordination for HAP operations. These partners will have already made appropriate arrangements with their national regulators as part of planning their project.
In many instances Avealto could locate a High Altitude Vehicle outside the national territorial boundaries of a country. Avealto will operate under ITU rules of non-interference. This option could be used in the Caribbean region to cover the entire area in a contiguous network and provide competitively priced services for maritime and land-based customers.
ADDRESSIBLE MARKET SEGMENTS
Avealto management does not wish to write fictional projections that predict specific future revenue numbers that cannot possibly be known at this time.
We are confident that individuals and organizations which have insight into the current telecommunications market worldwide will recognize the exceptional strategic opportunities inherent in successful development of a viable HAP vehicle which can remain on station for 6+ months.
Avealto has begun informal discussions with a number of prospective customers with operations in Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, Caribbean, South America, and Australia.