Military invests $440 million in inflatable balloon antennas

Credit: GATR

"From storm zones to war zones" would be a fitting tagline for Alabama company GATR. You probably first heard about the company in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. GATR released large beach ball-esque balloons that were filled with everything need to make them satellite dishes. Satellite dishes that float, that is. The whole 70-pound thing can be carried in a pair of backpacks and assembled on site. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that this would have application beyond disaster recovery. After all, portable, floating antennas could have a number of field uses. And who doesn't love inflatables?

That’s why a group of military branches (led by U.S. Army Project Manager) have signed onto a 5-year, $440 million contract to get these inflatable satellite antennae (ISA) into the hands of the Army.

The construction is relatively simple. It’s a flexible parabolic dish: think of your basic satellite dish: instead of making it from metals or plastics or ceramic, GATR makes its dish from fabric, meaning it can bend and pull in any direction. That dish is inside of the inflatable sphere. And things have changed since 2005. The company now offers them in 2.4-, 1.8- and 1.2-meter diameters, offering a greater range of usages to our armed forces. They can be built and running in about a half-hour (check the video below for an animation of its setup).

The company claims the dish works just as well as any rigid one you might find on the ground, and it’s far more stable in high winds, since the ball deflects the wind around the dish. It can work in 40+ mph winds and remain intact in 60+ ones.

In addition, it can withstand puncture (the website even goes so far to state that it can withstand being shot) because the blower, which keeps it constantly inflated, adjusts to “small caliber holes.” This, of course, means it could have great field usage. Small punctures won’t stop it. Weather won’t stop it. Water won’t stop it. It’s an armed forces dream-come-true.

At present, the antennas are available for both commercial and government usage. So feel free to set one up in the pond of your local golf course.

GATR, via Wired

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