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Lockheed Martin to develop geostationary Solar Powered Airship

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April 30, 2009

HAA is an un-tethered, unmanned lighter-than-air vehicle that will operate above the jet s...

HAA is an un-tethered, unmanned lighter-than-air vehicle that will operate above the jet stream above 70,000 feet (over 21 km high) in a geostationary position

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May 1, 2009 The idea of replacing very expensive space based satellites and Aircraft mounted Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) with stationary platforms inside Earth's atmosphere has been floated for decades. Despite the fact that lighter-than-air vehicles or airships that could fulfill this role have been flying for over 300 years, the idea is only now getting off the ground. U.S. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been chosen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for a US$400 million contract to to design, build, test and fly a 1:3 scale model of an airship surveillance and telecommunications platform called the High Altitude Airship (HAA).

The HAA is an un-tethered, unmanned lighter-than-air vehicle that will operate above the jet stream (more than 70,000 feet / 21 km high) in a geostationary position. From that position, the autonomous flight test system will operate on station for 90 days and the airship will be able to survey a 600-mile (970 km) diameter area and millions of cubic miles of airspace to deliver telecommunications relay, weather data or surveillance. The full scale HAA will be able to stay aloft for up to 10 years.

A geostationary airship offers the same capabilities as a satellites but at a fraction of the cost (1 to 2 orders of magnitude less) and is also significantly less costly to deploy and operate and other airborne platforms such as AWACS and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

The Airship operates in the stratosphere just barely within the outer limits of the earth's atmosphere. The geostationary position of 70,000 feet (21 km) has been selected because there are minimal wind conditions during a significant part of the year at this altitude and the air density is only five percent of that at the surface.

The HAA will be built using high-strength fabrics to minimize hull weight. Lift is provided by helium and leakage, as well as migration of air and water vapor into the helium enclosure, will be minimized by the envelope design. A 15kW thin-film solar array will generate all power required on-station and store it in a 40 kWh Li-ion battery for use by the payload (up to 50lbs) and the 2kW lightweight all-electric propulsion units.

The 500,000 ft³ (14,158.4 m³) airship will measure 240 ft long by 70 ft in diameter (73 x 21 meter) and will be built in the company’s Akron Airdock, which is 1,175 feet long, 325 feet wide and 211 feet high (358 x 99x 64 m). The building's height is equal to a 22-story building.

Paul Evans

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6 Comments

This would free up some geo orbit space for future sunsats.

galileo2100
1st May, 2009 @ 06:53 am PDT

Its about time now !! The benefits are too good to have been overlooked for long so far. This can be a good solution until the space elevator is up in another three decades.

The winners are the NEO research community. Being cash-strapped, it will be easier and affordable to deploy Telescopes and RADARS onto geostationary orbits..... they need not necessarily be in geostationary configuration. This way the HAA may be brought back to ground or repair and upgrade missions may be sent with ease every year.... all all this with existing detection technology !!

Sougata Pahari
2nd May, 2009 @ 11:20 am PDT

There are though problems with this idea.

The airships skin would have to be UV shielded as the atmosphere at that hight would provide almost no protection, decreasing life expectancy.

Closer to the Earth, so in an event of attack they could be more easily knocked out.

Decreased payload, but i assume they would be faster to construct. Atmospheric conditions would lead to slight inaccuracy's in location (no good for GPS).

And it's the wrong shape, as the stratosphere has irregular turbulence due to the UV absorption rate. The Zeppelin design is for cutting though the air to get some where, not to stay in the same place.

But there are countless uses for this airship, especially for the Military.

Neon
4th May, 2009 @ 12:29 pm PDT

If we make these extremely big, we can use them to fight hurricanes by steering them over the top of spawning areas or over storms themselves to deprive hurricanes of solar energy. We can cool cities in summertime with them, too. Reflecting heat away from being captured in the earth's atmosphere would diminish global warming and could even reverse it. Very large airships (casting an umbra to the surface) could even transport water into deserts from the ocean by setting up slow circular wind patterns as seen in total eclipses of the sun. Melting of mountain glaciers and the Antarctica ice shelf might be coaxed to retain their waters and save New York City from inundation and save the polar bears.

Simply towing even larger (and certainly cheaper) air barges where they were needed to block solar irradiation would be nice. A clear top with photovoltaic panels mounted inside the envelope or at parabolic focus for high efficiency electricity generation should power steering motors reasonably well and take advantage of thermal lift. Extremely large surfaces might harvest electricity from the atmosphere, too, for space elevators through inflated evacuated shafts, or for powering the planet with inexpensive energy.

Actually, I have discovered a room temperature super-conductor that might be just the ticket for these puppies.

TogetherinParis
12th May, 2009 @ 09:37 pm PDT

70,000 feet is a good distance to avoid most thunderstorms, but not all. Can't help but wonder what damage a major storm could do to an airship that was caught up in the middle of one.

PBudd
29th July, 2011 @ 01:22 am PDT

Re; This would free up some geo orbit space for future sunsats.

comment galileo2100 - May 1, 2009 @ 06:53 am PDT

Solar power sats are better off set into polar orbits so they are in the sun 24/7. I would say above geostationary orbit to keep them clear of the scrapyard that they have turned LEO into.

Slowburn
13th September, 2011 @ 07:02 am PDT
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