September 28, 2010      

A Robotics Trends Business Review article written in April 2010 entitled “Sanswire’s Clouded Vision,” written by yours truly, began and ended with the same sentence. That sentence–“What is one to make of Sanswire Corp.?”–sums up my opinion of the company, as well as the opinions of many other industry observers. To be honest, the article was difficult and frustrating to write.

Sanswire offers compelling technology (lighter-than-air unmanned airships), in a rapidly expanding marketplace (unmanned systems), that provides a required function (persistent surveillance) for a well-funded customer base (militaries across the globe). You think that this would make for an easy write-up.

Unfortunately, the company has a checkered past that includes a delisting, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigations, and convictions on fraud charges. To its credit, after a very trying period, Sanswire cleaned house both figuratively and literally-personnel were replaced and the company focused its development efforts on its STS-111 lighter-than-air (LTA) unmanned airship.

The STS-111 is a mid-altitude surveillance platform designed to operate at altitudes between 10,000 to 30,000 feet. The airship differs significantly from other LTA systems. The STS-111 is based on a novel, multisegmented airship design in which the first segment contains a 360-degree vector thrust engine that propels and guides the remaining segments in a manner similar to a train engine pulling the following cars. Sanswire contends that its design provides a more stable platform, particularly in high wind.

The relaunched Sanswire had placed much stock in an announced Q2 2010 U.S. demonstration of its STS-11 platform. The demonstration date came and went, but then on September 29th, the company announced that the demonstration took place at Easton Airport, in Easton, Md.

The demonstration does little to address the question of the competition that Sanswire faces from the largest defense contractors such as Raytheon Corp. and Lockheed Martin, which also understand the business potential for autonomous lighter-than-air vehicles as a platform for providing persistent surveillance. Still, the company is clearly “moving the ball forward,” and therefore remains a player in a market that all agree has a great deal of potential.