Science: Down-to-Earth Satellite

Earth-orbiting communications satellites literally come too high for the strapped treasuries of developing countries. A typical example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's new Applications Technology Satellite, which was launched in May to beam educational TV programs to remote regions in the U.S. and elsewhere, cost a hefty $111 million. Now engineers of a Westinghouse subsidiary, TCOM (for Tethered Communications) Inc., have devised an inexpensive alternative: a tethered balloon, held at altitudes of two or three miles, that can perform many of a satellite's functions at a bargain-basement price.

The idea is based on the signal-relay balloons that were used to...

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