Air Force Space BattleLab Conducts Successful Test of Near Space Communications

Real Benefits Seen For Troops On The Ground

Chandler, AZ; March 16, 2005 — The U.S. Air Force Space BattleLab today announced the results of successful tests of balloon-borne ground-to-ground and ground-to-air communications systems that significantly surpass current battlefield experience. “These Near Space demonstrations—a part of Joint Warfighting Space—show the effectiveness of a low-cost, simple solution to meeting the warfighter need for beyond-line-of-sight to communication. This is a first in exploiting this environment to support the warfigher and we see great potential for it to meet many more requirements,“ said Lt. Col. Kelly Andersen, Chief of Concept Development for the Air Force Space BattleLab.

The tests are being carried out using balloon-borne SkySite® command and control platforms developed by Space Data Corporation of Chandler, Arizona. Space Data uses a patented system to provide digital, two-way communications over long distances using a constellation of weather balloons. Space BattleLab is now adapting this system to provide a platform for its Combat SkySat communications system.

Currently, troops in Iraq are using handheld radios with a range of 10-15 miles. Tests conducted this past week using the Space Data balloon systems increased that range to more than 400 miles using the same radios. This will allow for greatly improved coordination and support among units in the field.

Likewise, in current battlefield situations, troops on the ground needing air support use their handheld radios to call air traffic controllers who are generally at a greater distance from the action. The air controllers then communicate with planes to carry out reconnaissance, bombing and strafing runs. Using the Combat SkySat system, successful tests were carried out that put troops on the ground in direct communications with pilots in the air. This not only eliminates time-consuming middle steps, but also provides much better information to the pilots from troops needing their support.

“We are very proud to be working closely with the highly motivated people at Space BattleLab,” said Gerald Knoblach, Space Data’s CEO. “They are moving rapidly to develop new and effective resources for our troops operating in very dangerous situations. We are gratified that our experience will help them in this important mission”

The Combat SkySat project is part of the BattleLab’s “Near Space” initiative—focusing on the area between 65,000 and 300,000 feet above the earth. This altitude is virtually unused currently—higher than planes fly, but below satellites. It is also an altitude that is above weather and most weapons systems. Space Data’s balloon platforms demonstrate that communications devices working in Near Space to provide clear, reliable communications using mainly inexpensive, off-the-shelf radio technology.

For further information on Space Data Corporation, visit

AIR FORCE SPACE BATTLELAB: Lt. Robert Crawford, 719-554-3732; cell 719-337-1034;

SPACE DATA: Tim Ayers, 202-857-9734; cell 202-422-5048;

EDITOR’S NOTE: Video and still photos from the Combat SkySat tests are available from Lt. Crawford.

Related Info