Brussels, 01 July 2002
Scientists from Moscow's State Aviation Institute have researched a novel approach to positioning communication transponders: radio-controlled gliders!
Traditionally, transponders used for TV and radio broadcasting and monitoring traffic in Moscow have been mounted on unsightly towers scattered around the city. A project, Aerodynamic System of Telecommunications (AIST), part of Moscow's State Aviation Institute, has come up with an alternative solution.
The idea would be to launch transponders attached to large gliders and tethered by Kevlar ropes some 10-15 km above the Earth. Launching the gliders - each with a wingspan of 28 metres and capable of carrying a payload of some 200 kg - poses some problems. The solution is to use winches to position the gliders.
Once the required altitude has been reached, wires running through the rope make sure the on-board computer keeps the device in the air. Electricity to run its guidance systems can be generated by the glider itself using a propeller as it travels along at 16 metres per second.
Look! It's a bird, no it's a…
The advantage of glider-mounted transponders is that they are cheaper than traditional TV towers or satellite communication systems and have a bigger reach. The gliders can be easily launched from a site about half the size of a football field. This kind of technology, say its designers, can also be used to carry systems for the observation of land-based objects (using optical or infrared wavelengths), as a radio-location device, or for cargo transportation. The devices could even be used to perform light shows and to spotlight skyscrapers.