October marked a significant milestone in the development of the Bloodhound Project, the global education initiative focused on a 1 600kmph land speed record attempt, with the completion of the desert towers which will beam video and data from the car to the outside world.

The product of years of research by Bloodhound and its network provider, MTN, the four masts erected at Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape, are vital to the project’s success.

In 2015/2016, when the team attempts, initially, to break the existing land speed record (1 227,93kmph set by Thrust SSC in 1997) and then push on to an unprecedented 1 600kmph, the world will be watching. Video and data will be streamed live and shared with audiences in 220 countries, supporting what will become one of the biggest news stories on the planet.

A detailed analysis of the Hakskeenpan area was done before MTN SA’s construction teams could start work on the base station and three other towers at specific places on Hakskeenpan, known as “Speedweek”, “KK Hoog” and “Klipkolk”.

These all align to ensure the eventual successful backhaul or transfer of data via microwave signalling to Upington. From here, Bloodhound data can link into the national fibre optic based network and be distributed worldwide.

Work on all four sites will be completed by the end of October 2013. The completed KK Hoog site is already fully powered by solar and wind energy, while a generator is used to power the Speedweek site when the venue at Hakskeenpan is used for tests or events. A hybrid system of solar energy and Eskom (local power utility) power will be used at Tech Centre and at Klipkolk.

The system will be put through its paces in the coming months. It will culminate in a trial with a mock-up section of the Bloodhound Supersonic Car tail fin with the antenna attached and the actual on-board car electronics to measure actual performance. Once these receive the green light, the systems will be built into the car itself.

On the decision to use a fixed mast system in conjunction with high-speed Long Term Evolution (LTE) modem links from the car itself, rather than follow the example of Formula 1 racing that uses a series of helicopters and high speed communication systems to shoot footage above the track, La Grue explains: “For Bloodhound, a 1 700kmph helicopter at low altitude and in close proximity to a car that generates shock waves off the ground was never going to be an option. The car, after all, will be able to travel almost five football pitches in just one second – hard to keep up with.”

Brandon Gombert, MTN SA GM: capital projects, says that even though the modems at Hakskeenpan are custom-built for Bloodhound, the core LTE equipment used is the same as is being rolled out to MTN customers across South Africa.

“It’s exactly the same system that you would be using to surf the Web from your LTE mobile phone, except that we use temporarily-allocated 800MHz spectrum for Bloodhound, and not the 1800 MHz spectrum normally used by mobile operators,” he says.

MTN SA will also provide 2G and 3G mobile connectivity to cover the entire Hakskeenpan area. In all, these endeavours are not only a major step for the Bloodhound SSC project, but also helps to connect the local community of Mier and its schools to the wider world.

Meanwhile, local wireless antenna producer Poynting has been selected to design and build antennas for the Bloodhound SCC, the supersonic car that will make the record attempt.

Members of the Bloodhound SSC team have held the world land speed record for 30 consecutive years, and have raised the US record by 22%. The first record attempts will take place in 2015, during which the car will make approximately 20 runs with the objective of achieving a supersonic record (1 300kmph). Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green, current holder of the World Land Speed Record at 1 227kmph, will be in the cockpit.

The Bloodhound SSC team will return to South Africa later, possibly in 2016, to aim for 1 610kmph.

The jet and rocket powered vehicle is currently being built by a team of 30 engineers in a special technical centre near Bristol in the UK. Some of the Bloodhound SSC team members will be visiting Poynting at the end of October to discuss requirements and ideas.

“We are so excited and inspired to have been selected from local and international companies making their mark in wireless antenna technology,” says engineering project manager Lara Viljoen.

“With a highly qualified and experienced team, we believe that Poynting has the research, skill and manufacturing capacity to add real value to this project. Nothing is impossible at Poynting and this kind of project is exactly what our team of engineers thrive on.”

Joining Viljoen on the project team are scientist and Poynting chief technical officer Dr Derek Nitch, R&D manager Mark Haarhoff and mechanical engineer Eduard Walker, as well as other Poynting staff.

“We’re relishing the challenge of designing antennas that will facilitate essential communications, data sharing and monitoring between the supersonic vehicle and the base stations,” says Viljoen.

“A key objective of the project is inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers by sharing this engineering adventure and engaging educators, learners and families. As well as the excitement of aiming for 1 610kmph, that is the key reason we’re involved in this landmark project.”

“Getting live data and images at supersonic speeds off the car is not only extremely tricky, it is pivotal to our ambitions,” says Conor La Grue, commercial and product sponsorship lead of the Bloodhound SSC Project.
“From the very beginning we have shared our story as we have gone along. It is fundamental to our education goal. If we can’t show what we’re doing in the desert, and involve our global audience in the adventure, then we will have failed – no matter how fast we go. That’s what makes Bloodhound unique.”

It is hoped to have at least three live video channels with live data coming off the car. Each will provide 3,5Mbps of data – enough to ensure that audiences can watch a high-definition movie on YouTube without it buffering.