All seeing eye, Blue Devil blimp

Very impressed with this article from Daily Wireless by Sam Churchill

This fall, there’ll be a new supercomputer in Afghanistan. It’ll be floating 20,000 feet above the warzone, aboard a giant spy blimp that watches and listens to everything for miles around, says Gizmodo. The Air Force hopes it will stay aloft for as much as a week, nearly four miles up.

The $211 million “Blue Devil” blimp would be seven times the size of the Goodyear Blimp. A dozen different sensors could then “talk” to each other constantly. The supercomputer will crunch the data. The goal is to get that coordinated information down to ground troops in less than 15 seconds.

The Air Force hasn’t settled yet on exactly which cameras and radars and listening devices will fly on board. And it’s still an open question whether the military can handle all the information that the airship will be collecting from above.

The Blue Devil airship will also carry a wide-area airborne surveillance system, or WAAS. These sensors – like the Gorgon Stare currently being installed on Reaper spy drones – use a dozen different cameras to photograph areas up to two-and-a-half miles around.

Gorgon Stare’s payload is contained in two pods slightly larger than, but about the same total weight as the laser-guided bombs the Reaper often carries. A Gorgon Stare-equipped MQ-9 Reaper UAS/UAV will be capable of flying at 20,000-25,000 ft. for 14-15 hours at a stretch.

The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) uses 92 cameras at once, says Wired Magazine, compared to Gorgon Stare’s measly dozen. The 1.8 Gigapixel video sensor is made up of 368, 5-megapixel video chips mounted in four separate cameras. It requires a 10 TeraOPS processor to crunch the 27 Gigapixels per second at a frame rate of 15 Hz. It uses two pairs of antennas for the Common Data Link and Tactical Common Data Link.

The first test flight using a UH-60 Black Hawk was declared a success by BAE in February 2010. The Boeing A160 Hummingbird will also eventually be used as a platform for the airborne video sensor and processor.

BAE Systems says it can process, store and downlink a minimum of 256 independent 640×480 video streams over a data link with a maximum effective bit rate of 200 Mbits per second. Each video window may be a “tracking video window” or a “fixed video window,” according to DARPA’s specifications.

The Air Force is exponentially increasing surveillance across Afghanistan, reports the Washington Post. The monthly number of unmanned and manned aircraft surveillance sorties has more than doubled since last January, and quadrupled since the beginning of 2009. Skynet, the UK’s single biggest space project, says their fourth satellite will increase the bandwidth available to British forces.

Boeing’s multibillion-dollar “SBInet” electronic border surveillance network along the Mexican border was canceled last week by the federal government. Homeland Security will instead adopt a mix of new technologies that may include blimps and UAVs. Raytheon is now pushing its system, called Clear View. Authorization for flying autonomous UAVs in the continental United States is being sought. Watch the skies.

Aerostats include free balloons, airships, and moored balloons. An aerostat’s main structural component is its envelope, a lightweight skin containing a lifting gas to provide buoyancy, to which other components are attached.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 at 1:43 pm.