There has been a lot of interest lately in Gooogle’s Project Loon, which proposes to extend Internet access to remote areas of the planet through high altitude balloons (travelling 20 km. above the earth). While intriguing, there are many problems to solve. Some observers believe Google would require a fleet of up to 70,000 balloons to provide coverage for the entire populated areas of the world. Other problems include territorial jurisdictions (although 20km is really high—it’s not high enough to avoid needing permission of nations the balloons overfly) and funding for building and maintaining such a fleet could run up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
IPNSIG thinks it may pay off to set our sights a little higher.
IPNSIG Board Member Scott Burleigh (NASA/JPL) & Edward J.Birrane (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) have published an intriguing paper describing the marriage of DTN & CubeSats to create a cheap and reliable way to provide basic network services to every populated location on the planet. They call their proposed system the “Ring Road”. Since the network nodes would be in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), national boundaries would not be an issue. And the cost of such an infrastructure would be relatively cheap: about $33M for development, deployment and maintenance over the ten-year lifecycle of such a network.
This network would be enabled by two key technologies:
- CubeSats are very small satellites measuring 1o cm on each side of a cube, and weighing 1 kg. or less. Although universities have developed single CubeSats for as little as $52K, for the purposes of the Ring Road system, Burleigh and Birrane estimate their cost to be $170K each.
- Delay & Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) allows the CubeSat to act as a data “mule” storing uploaded “bundles” of data until the CubeSat’s orbit takes it over a groundstation connected to the Internet. The height and speed of the CubeSat’s orbit provides wide area coverage and speedy transit to its next download link.
For more details, read the paper.
For more information about CubeSats, see the Wikipedia article.
Want to build your own CubeSat? Check out the CubeSat Kit page
Want to understand DTN more? Check out our DTN Primer.