Starlink has been making great progress in providing global broadband Internet access, but there are a number of disadvantages to satellite Internet, such as low-Earth orbit clutter, high costs, and CEO grumpiness. There are a few alternatives if standard internet access is not available, and one of the most ambitious is to provide balloon internet access. Project Loon is perhaps the most famous of these (although it no longer exists), but it’s also possible to skip the middleman and build your own high-altitude balloon capable of 500Kbps connection speeds.
(Stephen) has been working on this project for a few months, and while it doesn’t support a full internet connection, the downlink on the high-altitude balloon is fast enough to send high-resolution images in near real time. This is thanks to a Raspberry Pi Zero aboard the globe that is paired with an STM32 board that handles radio communication on an RF4463 transceiver module. The STM32 acts as an intermediary or buffer to ensure reliable information is sent to the radio, rather than using the Pi directly. (Stephen) also wrote a lot of the software responsible for handling all of these interactions, optimized specifically for ballooning.
The blog post for this project was written a few weeks ago and the system’s first release date is well past, so we’re looking forward to the results and images you were able to gather with this system. Eventually (Stephen) hopes the downlink will also be fast enough for video. Balloons are also an underrated tool, and this isn’t the only way they can be used to help send radio signals from one place to another.