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Loon, Intelsat, Nokia, others see 'untapped commercial opportunity' in atmosphere

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Loon LLC, Airbus Defence and Space, HAPSMobile Inc., Intelsat US LLC, and Nokia Corporation see a rare, untapped commercial opportunity in the skies above Earth's atmosphere. All members of the recently-formed HAPS Alliance, the companies outlined in a White Paper published today a multi-billion dollar market opportunity in Earth's stratosphere, spanning telecommunications, high-resolution earth observation, and weather prediction and modeling.

Earth's stratosphere — which spans from just above the lower atmosphere to the edge of space — has long been deemed unsuitable for commercial operations because of its harsh conditions. However, advances in technology over the last decade have made operating in the stratosphere possible, making the region ripe for commercial activity going forward.

The White Paper outlines significant opportunity in the telecommunications sector, with the ability of stratospheric technologies to drive significant growth in the $3.9 trillion mobile technologies and services business by bringing millions of people online, reconnecting people after disasters, building out the next generation of 5G networks, and connecting the future of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Another area of commercial opportunity outlined in the White Paper is earth observation (EO) and weather prediction and modeling. The $3 billion satellite segment of the EO market is growing steadily, as is the $4.4 billion drone service market. As stratospheric technologies develop, they will tap into portions of both markets, while stimulating new market demand due to their unique capabilities. Potential use-cases include: collecting data around natural and man-made disasters to enable more effective responses to wildfires, oil spills, floods and more; tracking meteorology to improve weather forecasts; monitoring natural resources, agriculture and infrastructure; and tracking large stretches of oceans for illegal fishing, pollution, or piracy.

While the stratospheric market is in its nascent stages, the enormous opportunities are drawing attention from a variety of sectors, including aviation and space manufacturers, global technology leaders, telecommunications operators, and startups. Some notable activities include:

  • Loon has flown thousands of stratospheric vehicles, with an average flight duration of over 4 months and a 223-day flight duration record, delivering connectivity to over 300,000 people in partnership with telecom operators such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Telefonica.
  • Airbus completed a 26-day stratospheric flight using a fixed-wing vehicle.
  • SoftBank Corp.'s HAPSMobile, in partnership with AeroVironment, and Boeing are developing fixed wing vehicles spanning approximately 80 meters.
  • World View completed a 40+ day balloon flight, and Raven regularly flies balloon missions.
  • Thales and Sceye are developing high altitude airships.

The full white paper can be downloaded here.

HAPS Alliance

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