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LIGHTWEIGHT AEROSTAT SYSTEM (LAS) - Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Applications

1.0 BACKGROUND The Coast Guard and Border Patrol need overhead EO/IR surveillance of outdoor venues, VIP events, border crossings, seaports, airports, etc. that is both less costly and intrusive than helicopters, while providing around the clock coverage. Law enforcement and emergency response agencies need thwe surveillance capability and low cost, responsive, and mobile equipment for wide area resilient and durable communications after a natural disaster, major accident, or terrorist act that degraded existing communications systems. Aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are expensive and have limited endurance. Mobile towers are height limited and provided only short range coverage.
 

The most efficient means to meet these needs is a low cost, mobile aerostat system. Aerostats provide coverage of large area, comparable to aircraft or UAS but with persistence of days and weeks instead of hours. However, traditional aerostats are large, manpower intensive and cannot operate in adverse weather conditions. Their ground equipment has very limited mobility and lengthy set-up times, restricting use to a few fixed sites flying large radar aerostats for border surveillance. Carolina Unmanned Vehicles has developed a Lightweight Aerostat System (LAS) to remove these limitations, creating a very cost effective system.
 

1.1 LAS Concept LAS consists of a small specially designed tethered blimp, called a Helikite, mounted on a single HMMWV trailer Carrier (Fig. 1). The LAS blimp can be flown at several hundred to thousand feet altitude to provide coverage 24 hours a day for a week or more without maintenance or downtime. Surveillance versions at 500 to 1,000 feet can cover a radius of 20 miles, depending upon terrain. LAS can elevate a communications relay payload up to 4000 feet, providing extended communication coverage out to 60 miles or more from its location.
 

The patented Helikite combines helium and wind lift so even very small sizes operate easily in high wind, allowing LAS to be a fraction of the cost and manpower of traditional lighter-than-air designs. LAS is very mobile and cost-effective through use of unique designs to reduce the need for ground crews to handle the blimp during launch and recovery. It is carried by a single trailer towed by a HMMWV or pickup truck and operated by a two person crew. Operating and maintenance cost is a fraction of the cost of using aircraft or UAS to lift surveillance or relay payloads. It does not require the complicated flight clearances needed for UAS deconfliction with manned aircraft. It covers a far larger area than tower based cameras, and has reduced blind spots due to obstacles in the field of view (Fig. 2).

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