Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Company tests high-altitude airship over New Mexico desert


Jun 15, 2022 12:54 AM

One of Sceye Inc’s airships launched from Roswel. Photo / AP

A technology company that wants to bring broadband to more remote areas and monitor methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry launched one of its airships from the New Mexico desert as part of a key test on the way to commercial operations.

Sceye Inc is developing a high-altitude platform station that company officials hope will provide an option other than satellites and aeroplanes for boosting internet connectivity and collecting data on everything from industrial pollution to wildfire threats.

It took a couple of hours for the unmanned helium-filled station to reach the stratosphere. It will stay there for 24 hours, a milestone that will bring Sceye closer to commercial operations over the next 18 to 24 months.

Founder and CEO Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsenand said his team will aim for more longevity with subsequent flights from their base in Roswell.

“Every flight is a big deal but every flight also is just another step in a process of iterative learning,” he said during a virtual interview from Sceye’s hangar where workers were busy prepping the massive airship for the flight.

Vestergaard Frandsenand said it takes about eight months to build a station, which consists of a sleek reflective fabric designed to operate in the stratosphere at 19.8 km above the Earth’s surface.

The unmanned helium-filled craft lifted off as part of the latest test in which it will maintain its position in the stratosphere for 24 hours.  Photo / APThe unmanned helium-filled craft lifted off as part of the latest test in which it will maintain its position in the stratosphere for 24 hours. Photo / AP

Nasa several years ago proposed a challenge that called for designs that could fly higher and longer than existing airships, with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California saying observations at that altitude could provide greater clarity. At the time, no airship could maintain an altitude in the stratosphere for more than eight hours.

Capable of lifting heavy payloads, Sceye’s airship runs on solar panels and a bank of lithium-sulphur batteries.

“Whether we achieve our objective with this flight or achieve something that’s short of the objective, we’re going to learn a lot,” he said.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department pledged up to $5 million when Sceye announced it would locate in the state. The company has operations in Roswell and Moriarty, a small community near Albuquerque.

Sceye partnered last year with the US Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico regulators to study air pollution and climate change over the coming years.

The state also has been studying accelerated formats for expanding high-speed internet, and state officials have said Sceye could play a role in that effort through a separate multimillion-dollar contract.

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