Sunday, December 2, 2012
When the balloon goes up: Radar-equipped aerostats to perform sentry duty
The phrase "when the balloon goes up" takes on a whole new meaning when radar-equipped balloons belonging to a certain air force are installed at a certain place.
Moored balloons will help with sense-making of the air situation picture by extending the radar horizon (literally) above and beyond the range of terrestrial radar emitters. This task is already a complex one in peacetime owing to the large number of flying objects around this place.
Once the aerostats go into service, they will add a new and unmistakeable feature to the landscape when hauled to ground level for maintenance. The aerostat's sheer size makes it difficult to hide from nosey people outside the fenceline, which means that sooner or later, someone will notice. :-)
At their operational ceiling thousands of feet above ground level, the aerostat will be hardly visible to ground observers. However, that vantage point gives the aerostat's sensors better visibility. Being higher allows the emitter to see far and see more.
The job of keeping the aerostat flying is complex too.
Among the issues that have to be sorted out before the aerostat goes aloft is that of deconflicting airspace. A cylinder of airspace around the aerostat probably needs to be sanitised to keep a safe distance between aircraft, the aerostat itself and, more importantly, the cable that anchors the aerostat to the ground. The last item will be near invisible to pilots flying about in high performance aircraft.
Lightning protection will be another point to consider. With millions of dollars worth of sensitive electronics in the air of one of the most lightning prone areas of the globe, defence engineers have to ensure the investment does not fry the moment a lightning bolt zaps the machine.
If it works as planned, the aerostat will herald exciting times for airspace watchers in that place.
Posted by David Boey at 2:01 PM