To Space, and Back, with LoRaWAN

Alasdair Allan
3 min readFeb 23, 2018

On a good day, with a reasonable antenna, you might well get 15km of range from an off-the-shelf LoRaWAN station. However, following in the hallowed footsteps of long range Wi-Fi where the current record is 237 miles, some people can never be satisfied with off-the-shelf.

Last August, a weather balloon was launched during an annual grassroots festival in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, called Koppelting. Over the course of three hours it ascended to an altitude of 38.8 km (that’s 24.1 miles, or just over 127,000 feet).

The balloon carried a a lightweight node connected to The Things Network, a community LoRaWAN network. In addition to the LoRaWAN radio was a GPS module, along with pressure, temperature, luminosity, UV-A/B light sensors, and an infrared thermopile, and they have data to prove it.

The record breaking LoRaWAN connection. (📷: The Things Network)

At its maximum height, as the balloon was flying over Osterwald in Germany, LoRaWAN packets were being received by 148 different gateways connected to The Things Network including on in Wrocław, Poland, a distance of 702.7 km (that 436.6 miles) from the balloon. The LoRaWAN transmitter used just 25mW (14dBm) of power, and set a world record for long range LoRaWAN.

Tracking TTNSAT-1 from Amsterdam at The Things Network Conference. (📷: Bas Zapf, Smart Makers)

Then during The Things Network Conference, held in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago with the cooperation of ESA, Space Norway, and the Norwegian Space Centre, NORSAT-2 which normally transmits AIS information in the VHF bands was modified to transmit LoRa messages.

Thomas Telkam talking at The Things Network Conference in Amsterdam. (📹: TTN)

Launched back in July of last year, the satellite orbits at a height of 600 km and passed over Amsterdam four times each day. Not a record for distance, but added kudos for coming from space. Which brings us to Outernet.

LoRa carrier being received at 11.9024 GHz from SES-2. (📷: Outernet)

Because just last week Outernet definitely claimed the world record for a LoRaWAN transmission distance, with a total round trip distance from the uplink facility to their 2 cm antenna in Chicago is about 71,572 km (that’s about 44,472.8 miles).

Of course, it’s not fair to compare their accomplishments with the unmodified LoRa radios used in the previous attempts.

Their link budget had some solid help from the 5 m uplink antenna and 90W amplifier on the SES-2 satellite, and of course they were transmitting in the Ku-band rather than in the traditional LoRa bands.

Still it means that 71,572 km is now the figure to beat if you’re looking for a LoRaWAN world record distance. Maybe you could ask Elon Musk to help out?