'Akashdeep' the huge white aerostat or surveillance balloon that was supposed to be the Defence Research & Development Organisation's showpiece at the ongoing AeroIndia 2011 extravaganza near Bangalore, was not allowed to soar to its full height on Sunday as the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) denied it permission. Nonetheless, it was impressive enough from the spectator's point of view.
Akashdeep rose to a height of 40 metres only twice at the show, and only for half an hour each time once before the defence minister's visit and once before media persons.
An official from the Aerial Delivery Research & Ddevelopment Establishment of the DRDO said, ''We have kept the aerostat at winch level (ground level) since beginning of the show. We always wanted to keep it flying. But denial of permission by ATC was a dampener.''
The ATC said it had denied permission as a safety measure, as the aerostat would hamper flight movement.
An aerostat can remain stationary in the air and is tethered to the ground through an electro-optic wire. An official said while a micro UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) does surveillance work, it can't fly for a longer time. However, an aerostat can be airborne continuously for seven days.
''Aerostats can cover a wider area and serve both civil and military purposes. In Russia, traffic movement surveillance is done through the Aerostat,'' the DRDO official said.
He said Aerostat is used for surveillance, intelligence, broadcasting and communication purposes and carry payloads of up to 300 kg. ''Right now, we have a 298-kg sensor and other payloads on it,'' he said.
Equipped with a special camera, it can cover an area of up to 60 km both during the day as well as night.
But there may be something even bigger and better coming. The initial success of Akashdeep has shown the way for a bigger and better indigenous 'Nakshatra'. This new aerostat system will be built to track a 450km radius - that's approximately four times the present 110km radius surveillance track of Akashdeep.
The surveillance system to be developed by the Aerial Delivery Research & Ddevelopment Establishment, Agra, can be tested up to 4.5 km altitude, with a payload of 800 kg to 1 tonne and 17,000 cubic metres volume. "The project is now on the drawing board. Once finalised, it will take us five years to complete the Nakshatra for service," Wing Commander A Marwah, mission coordinator for Aerostat, said.
Elaborating plans for the medium-range Akashdeep, he said the technology is ready and has been successfully tested at Agra for a height of 1km with a 300kg payload.
"We have now achieved the technology. It's perfect for use along borders, coastal areas and in areas of low-intensity conflicts. The US and Russia have also shown interest in exchanging technical know-how," Marwah added. There are also plans to modify the existing model before replicating it in other areas.
Akashdeep is now stationed for demonstration at the Yelahanka Air Force station for Aero India 2011.
It's among the biggest flying objects here and took over five days to be transported from Agra.
However, competition for air space at the show left it with very little time for any detailed operational demonstration to the visitors. Even on Saturday, there was only an hour's time between air displays for a technical demonstration.
In the past four days, it has been demonstrated only up to a maximum height of 80 m. Going higher will require more time.