New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) announced today the formation of a strategic partnership between researchers at the university and Auxilia Inc., Albany, NY. The new company will implement and commercialize applications of high altitude airships (HAA) and other lighter-than-air vehicles.
“NJIT scientists will provide the research and development for the project,” said Donald H. Sebastian, PhD, vice president for research and development at NJIT. “Electronics platforms carried by HAAs are key to a new infrastructure for globally extending wireless transmission of converged high speed, high bandwidth voice, video and digital data.”
“Auxilia will manage the business and commercialization of this leading-edge technology,” said Auxilia President Donald DeVito.
Sebastian noted that objectives of the project included improving high-speed wireless communications, creating secure and scaleable network operations, sustainable power systems, advanced imaging technologies as well as new materials development. He foresees using NJIT’s computer simulation and modeling facilities for development.
First generation HAAs are unmanned, helium-filled vehicles, 25 times the size of the Goodyear blimp, Sebastian said. Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems-Akron and Stratcom International, Delaware, are developing them for defense purposes under federal funding. Stratcom chair, James A. Abrahamson, Lt Gen. U.S. Air Force (Ret.), is anHAA pioneer who directed the strategic defense initiative under the late U.S. President RonaldReagan. Abrahamson is a special advisor to Auxilia; the two firms have a marketing agreement.
“Airships can lift electronic equipment payloads into the stratosphere, above the jet stream, to an altitude of 70,000 feet,” noted Sebastian. Research has shown that winds at this elevation are relatively low so that solar powered propeller motors can position an airship to any global geographic location with GPS accuracy and even keep it stationary for periods potentially exceeding one year. An airship platform can thus function as a floating transmitter with a line of sight radio reach that covers a ground area greater than 600 miles in diameter. HAAs will cost substantially less than satellites and unlike satellites, they can safely return to earth for equipment upgrading. These characteristics open new vistas for global communications.
Early civil applications for HAAs will likely address homeland security problems including port security and border monitoring, as well as emergency first responder communications. NJIT was designated in June of 2004 as the Homeland Security Technology Systems Center for New Jersey.
The HAA is viewed by many people as the best solution for tracking ocean-going traffic and monitoring cargo in ships at sea. “We have expertise in the range of applicable technologies that will allow tracking and real-time content monitoring of cargo in transit,” said Sebastian. “With the airship as a vital surveillance and communication link, we can push the border several hundred miles out to sea.”
The airship program complements other technology areas highlighted in NJIT’s recent strategic plan. These include wireless communications, advanced modeling and simulation, nano-materials for renewable power systems and high performance components. All are critical to the university’s plan to double research and development funding over the next five years, said Sebastian.