Ok, to start, let me give you a little background.  A SkySite Platform® is a balloon launched, communications device/repeater that “fly’s” at between 80,000 and 100,000 feet above the earth.  They are launched by Space Data Corp as part of their SkySite Network®.

Space Data has developed and deployed a balloon-borne wireless network that enables the delivery of wireless services in geographies and locations that are not served or are poorly served by existing wireless technologies and service providers. The company was founded in 1997 and is led by a team of technology professionals with years of experience operating and designing complex communications hardware and software networks.

  Through its SkySite Network®, Space Data provides reliable, affordable communications in rural and remote areas. Companies in industries ranging from energy to utilities to transportation have suffered from lost profits and poor productivity due to an inability to the get data they need to run their remote operations safely and efficiently. Space Data has created the network and the subscriber equipment needed to quickly and affordably gather operational data from both fixed and moving assets, no matter how remote the location.

  Space Data’s SkySite Network® has been designed to deliver low to medium-rate two-way data communications across wide areas. The network is thus able to support such applications as SCADA communications, telemetry, GPS-based location tracking and messaging. Space Data focuses on delivering these services and applications to industries and customers that operate in environments where critical assets and personnel are outside the range of traditional communications. Space Data’s initial market focus is on the energy and transportation industries where assets such as oil and gas wells, pipelines, service fleets and personnel are remotely located or travel to remote locations.

  I first met Space Data (SD) two years ago at a venture capital conference in Phoenix, Arizona where I was attending to market my other business, Phillips Media Services, a video production company, to companies that would hopefully find some venture capital.

  After making my pitch to SD about using me for their future video production needs, I put on my “skeptical hat” and started to grill them about their product.  Being a private pilot, my first question was, “what’s the FAA got to say about you launching balloons”?  I soon found out that if it weighs less than six pounds, the FAA does not control those flights, as they do not pose any significant danger to aircraft. A SkySite Platform® weighs between 1200-2000 grams or about 3+ pounds.

  The next “skeptic’s hat” I put on, was one of an environmentally concerned user of the outdoors.  The nest question was “Ok what’s the EPA got to say about you littering the country side with these things?”  It was their next response that got this geocachers ears burning.  They said “you know that’s one issue we are working on now.  We know where each one lands due to the GPS tracking, but it is not cost effective for us to have employees in 50 states waiting for these to land.  Someone mentioned geocaching to us, but we really don’t know anything about it.”

  I was like a little kid in grade school who knew the answer and was jumping out of my seat.  I then explained the sport of geocaching to SD and when I had finished, they asked if I was interested in starting a business to recover SkySite Platforms®.  That conversation took place in December of 2002 and here I am today sending out geocachers on missions to recover SkySite Platforms® around the United States.

  As of today, SD is launching SkySite Platforms® from 7 locations in the US.  They include Chandler, Arizona (headquarters, both theirs and mine); Sweetwater, Corsicana, Wharton and Odessa Texas; Searcy, Arkansas and Piedmont, Oklahoma.  There are between 1-3 launches per day from each location, every 8 to 12 hours from sites in the vicinity of the target coverage area. An onboard processor on each SkySite Platform® controls its rise to an altitude of 80,000 to 100,000 feet. At that altitude, a coverage circle of 350 miles in diameter can be achieved, and is above most all of the “weather”.

  When the SkySite Platform® is moving out of its coverage area, SD first launches another SkySite Platform® to cover that area and then sends a signal to the first SkySite Platform® and it detaches from the biodegradable balloon and falls back to earth on a bright orange parachute.  Once on the ground the SkySite payload sends its final GPS location back up to the next SkySite Platform® flying overhead.

  SD then transmits SOG (SkySite Platform® On Ground) location data to SSRS and I post the “approximate” location data on the (4) website.  Qualified “agents” visit the SSRS website and choose any of the SOG’s they wish to attempt recoveries for.  To be qualified, you must submit a signed ICA/ROC (Independent Contractors Agreement / Rules Of Conduct) to SSRS, which are available on the SSRS website(4).

  Once I have those documents in my files.  You choose a SOG on a “first come, first served” basis and I send you back the exact coordinates of each SOG.   You then have 48 hours of “no competition recovery time”, to achieve your mission.  Meaning you are the only one with those exact set of coordinates for 48 hours.  You must report back in within that time frame (unless prior arrangements have been made) or the SOG goes back up for grabs.

NOTE:  I have not been enforcing the 48 hour time limit. At this time it was unrealistic to impose that limit when everyone has full time jobs and can only hunt SOGS mostly during weekends or vacations.

Space Data was the one who required that time limit before we started the recovery operations. They based that on the fact that their employees were given that "48 hour window" as a goal to shoot for.   Big difference is that they were "full time employees" of Space Data.

What most are doing is visiting the website everyday and selecting SOGS when they appear and hunting on the weekends.

So agents who want to plan multi day trips, have been allowed to request SOGS up to 2 weeks in advance. I have agents in OK and Texas who plan trips once per month and collect up to 20+ SOGS on a trip.
 

 

SSRS is coordinating recovery of SkySite Platforms® in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. Other states will be added as Space Data’s customers base grows.

  Now there have been some complaints with the SSRS system because it takes away the competitive aspect of geocaching and the FTF race.  Since SSRS is offering a bounty on each recovered SkySite Platform®, we felt it would be unfair to someone that agreed to recover a SkySite Platform®, to find they have been beaten to the SOG upon arrival at its expected location.

  In the future, we have some special promotions we are trying to work out the details on, that might include a true, FTF type SOG recovery and other things as well.  The emphasis right now is to recovery any SOG as fast as we can.

  Now for the $$$money$$$ part.  SSRS offers a recovery fee to qualified agents of between $25-$50 or more per SkySite Platform® for successful recoveries.  Most of the time the recovery is Pro-rated, meaning that a recovery within the first week of posting receives 100% fee and decreases after that.  It’s all spelled out in the ICA.

  SSRS wants to be sure the recovery process is a safe, “eco-friendly” and law abiding process.  Some common sense rules are spelled out in the ROC (Rules Of Conduct), that include things like not entering private property without permission.  We have found that when a property owner has been contacted about a SOG on their property, most all have been extremely helpful and accommodating in granting access.  We have even had some property owners get so excited about a SOG recovery on there property, they have accompanied the SSRS agents during the recovery.


Mark J. Phillips
SS Recovery Services LLC