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IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE! IT'S A ... STRATELLITE?

Ok, full disclosure: I pinched that headline from Wired.Blimp.jpgEngadget notes that GlobeTel Communications of Ft. Lauderdale is on target to launch a prototype Stratellite early next year.GlobeTel plans a constellation of the airships--I know you did not just call them baloons--to provide wireless services like WiFi, cellular and HDTV. GlobeTel managed to get The Economist to run a puff piece on the technology, declaring the impending death of the communications satellite industry. Engadget was skeptical, noting that GlobeTel "hasn't released any photos of the airship" and the press release "includes the usual legalese disclaimers about 'forward-looking statements'. So, we may have to wait a while to see if this is real, or if they're just full of hot air."The whole fiery demise of the Hindenberg-thing gave blimps a bad name, so The Economist is right to take seriously today's airships, which bear little resemblance to their mid-century ancestors. The Defense Department, in particular, is considering High Altitude Airships for a variety of missions and developed a prototype solar powered airship that can fly untethered at 70,000 feet altitude with 4,000 pounds of communication and surveillance payload.There are varying amounts of money in something like 11 seperate program elements in the budget for research and development for missions ranging from tactical communications to ballistic missile defense missions. Airships would also be a candidate platform, along with uninhabited aerial vehicles, for a constalltion of "psuedolites" to provide localized, jam-resistant GPS signals. DARPA even gets a giggle for naming its heavy lift airship ... the Walrus.--Jeffrey Lewis

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