Home News Local News State expects to award internet study contract to Sceye Inc.

State expects to award internet study contract to Sceye Inc.

Sceye Inc. is expected to receive a state contract to prove how its airships can provide internet connectivity and environmental monitoring from high above the earth. This photo is from an October 2019 launch of a small prototype version. (Submitted Photo)

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A New Mexico airship developer with a hangar at the Roswell Air Center is expected to be awarded a large state contract to prove the feasibility of providing internet connectivity from 60,000 feet in the air.

If given the contract, Sceye Inc. also will supply evidence that their dirigibles can be used to monitor methane and carbon dioxide emissions.

Bruce Krasnow, New Mexico Economic Development Department public information officer, said a Request for Proposals distributed in October 2020 “should be awarded to Sceye pending finalization.”

Krasnow could not comment by press time on the approval process, the expected decision date or whether other bidders were involved.

Prior published reports indicated the contract amount will be $3.2 million and said that Sceye founder Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen had confirmed the information.

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Officials with Sceye did not respond to an email by press time.

Sceye has developed dirigibles — what it calls “high altitude platform stations” — that are solar-powered during the day and battery-powered at night.

They are intended to go as high as 65,000 feet into the stratosphere and to be able to stay there for several months at a time.

They are designed to carry equipment that can monitor human activity, weather and emissions; take high-resolution images of Earth; and provide internet connectivity.

The company is now based in Moriarty, New Mexico, but has a hangar at the Roswell Air Center from which it has sometimes launched its prototypes.

The RFP indicated that large areas of New Mexico have little to no internet connectivity and that the state has experienced difficulties securing enough federal funding to provide traditional broadband with underground cables or fibers.

The lack of reliable internet affects businesses, students and educators, and the government, including the state agencies that rely on internet for their digital billboards announcing traffic problems or emergencies.

“Therefore, the State of New Mexico is seeking alternatives to traditional methods for broadband — thereby allowing the state to be at the forefront of new solutions and technologies for near 100% connectivity,” the Request for Proposals states.

The document indicates that the contractor will need to prove that it has the equipment necessary and the technical capabilities of providing broadband from at least 60,000 feet in the air.

The RFP also indicates that the winning bidder will provide the state with payload designs for its broadband and methane and carbon dioxide detection equipment, as well as with feasibility studies conducted with other government agencies that prove the effectiveness of the equipment and its methods.

Frandsen told state legislators in August 2020 that five of his company’s airships deployed in the skies could provide 100% internet coverage for the state. One airship could cover 100 miles and reach a million people, he said.

“The need for equality has been successfully verified during the pandemic. It has completely put on display the great gap between the connected and the unconnected,” he said to members of the state Interim Committee of Science, Technology and Telecommunications.

Krasnow said that installing broadband fiber statewide would cost an estimated $5 billion, so a contract to prove the worth of another method is a worthwhile investment.

“There will never be enough money to complete last-mile broadband throughout New Mexico,” he said. “If (we) can invest $3 million to $20 million and get access to new cutting-edge technology and avoid a much larger capital cost, it is a worthwhile investment.”

A letter from Mark Roper, Economic Development Department division director, that accompanied the Request for Proposals also stated, “The ability to monitor border activity as well as environmental issues such as CO2 and methane emissions could be greatly enhanced by the use of these technologies.”

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.