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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 08:36 GMT
Hi-tech mission for airships
The airship was developed in Bedford, UK
The airship uses state of the art technology
test hello test
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida
Airships could provide a cheap and quick way of bringing mobile phone networks and fast internet connections to remote parts of the world.

Engineers at Britain's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) are working on developing airships that could provide the telecoms networks of the future.

Their StratSat programme applies modern technology advances to the old principles of airships to offer what they believe is a cheap and flexible alternative to unsightly mobile phone masts across the countryside.

"It's bringing airships out of the thing that you see over sports stadium just doing a bit of camera work or advertising and making them part of the 21st Century and data communication," Mike Durham, senior technical consultant at ATG.

State of the art balloons

ATG is based at giant purpose-built hangars at Cardington, Bedford, a site historically associated with British airship production.

ATG headquarters in Bedford
Airships developed in huge hangars
The company is due to launch its airship prototype in 2003.

The balloon is designed to rise into the stratosphere to a height of 12 kilometres (60,000 feet), out of the way of passenger planes.

On board, the airship will carry state of the art technology such as transponders for mobile telephone, television, digital radio, internet and surveillance services.

Powered by solar cells and a back-up diesel engine, the balloon is designed to stay in position for five years.

"The vehicle is designed to be autonomous," Mr Durham told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"It flies itself to a geostationary position for the whole of its life, but it is downlinking data about whether it's got any problems to a ground control station and the people on the ground can take remedial action."

Safe technology

ATG believes its airship programme provides a low-cost alternative to the conventional telecoms satellites.

StratSat facts
Length: 200m (656ft)
Payload: Up to 1,000kg
Maximum altitude: 20km (65,000ft)
Endurance: 5 years on station
But for many, talk of airships will bring images of the Hindenburg disaster more than 60 years ago.

ATG insists its helium-filled balloons are not only cost-effective, but also safe.

"The way airships have moved forward over the past 30 years has been quite dramatic," said Mr Durham.

"We came out of the 60s with wicker basket-type technology. We started to get into modern technology and that is where this company came from."

See also:

30 May 00 | Business
Germans reinvent Zeppelin
30 May 00 | Sci/Tech
New airship carries commercial hopes
17 Mar 00 | Europe
Virgin's mine-spy in the sky
15 Aug 01 | Europe
Germany looks to new Zeppelin era
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