166275556

Photo by: Westend61

Westend61

Airship Renaissance is Pushing Balloon Technology to the Limits

By: Robin Fearon

Airships seem like technology from a bygone era. But when a group of British scientists took to the skies above Florida in a Skyship 600, it could have been as champions of a new age in lighter-than-air transport. Drifting among the clouds, it showed there was a place for airships in the 21st century.

February 23, 2022

The Skyship turned out to be the perfect aerial platform for the team’s Cloud Lab experiments. Over four weeks in 2013, the research craft was filmed flying from Florida to California, gathering data on cloud formation, weather systems, and insect migration. It was an overwhelming win for both airships and science.

British company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is now making the Skyship’s successor. The Airlander 10 craft is one of a worldwide fleet of airships planned for a zero-emissions economy. All Airlanders will be fitted with electric engines, cutting their flight carbon emissions to zero by 2030.

Each craft is 300 feet (92 meters) long and stays airborne through aerodynamic design and one million cubic feet of lighter-than-air helium gas. The Airlander’s design and fitting are flexible so it can be used to lift 10 metric tons of cargo or take 100 people on short-haul flights.

The ability to land on virtually any flat surface on land, ice, or at sea, and to stay airborne for days, makes the airship attractive for tourist trips to areas inaccessible by most forms of transport. HAV is now working with Swedish company Ocean Sky Cruises planning eco-expeditions to the North Pole by 2024.

Accessing remote locations is central to some of the biggest contracts for airship technology. French firm Flying Whales has developed the rigid 650 meters long LCA60T with a cargo bay capable of carrying 60 metric tons. Vertical take-off and landing will allow the helium-filled airship to deliver timber, wind turbines, or pre-fabricated buildings over the roughest terrain.

Other companies are looking to cash in on the heavy lifting market. Airship do Brasil wants to move cargo across the Amazon rainforest. While Skylifter has an unusual UFO-shaped solar-electric airship, designed to lift payloads weighing up to 250 metric tons in weight.

The scope for commercial airship use is expanding. Dirigibles – from the French verb ‘diriger’, to steer – have a new role in surveillance, security, and communications. Aeros says its Sky Dragon dirigible can be used for threat detection, monitoring critical infrastructures like power plants or military bases, and border patrols.

Airship R101 moored to a control tower at Cardington.

HP7070-001

Airships may seem like technology from a bygone era, but they are taking to the skies again in the 21st century.

Photo by: Fox Photos

Fox Photos

Airships may seem like technology from a bygone era, but they are taking to the skies again in the 21st century.

Perhaps the final frontier for airships is space travel, but that is a real possibility. California firm JP Aerospace aims to use airships to carry rockets to the edge of space, where they will gradually accelerate into orbit.

And NASA has two airship concepts that are really out there. One is a vacuum airship for Mars exploration – literally, an airship with the air pumped out – and the other is a lighter-than-air exploration vehicle for the upper atmosphere of Venus, where the atmospheric pressure is similar to Earth’s. Neither of these concepts are guaranteed to be used, but they show that when it comes to airships, we are pushing the technology to its outer limits.

Next Up

Robots Imitate Life to Create Better Versions of Themselves

Robots have always imitated life. Social androids powered by artificial intelligence have now reached a level where they may be ready to work in shops, airports, and care homes. But an entirely new class of robots is being developed that can grow, evolve, and even reproduce.

How 3D Print Building is Changing the Future

Building with 3D printing technology is sparking widespread interest in the construction industry. Besides reducing waste and our impact on the environment, it can speed up construction from weeks, or months, to days. Projects that use simple raw materials like soil, straw, and even salt, can be built in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional construction.

These Scientists Created Robots Covered in Living Skin

Japanese scientists created a self-healing skin for robots. This breakthrough study brings Westworld-like robots one step closer to reality.Is a dystopian future closer than we think?

Building Atlantropa: One Man’s Plan To Drain the Mediterranean Sea

Atlantropa may be the most bizarre and ambitious environmental project you have never heard of.

Plucking CO2 from the Air Could Decarbonize Food, Fuel, and Fashion

Products made from carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from the atmosphere are part of a fast-growing trend to decarbonize nearly everything we use. Food, drink, fuel, and plastics can all be made using CO2 from the air. And recycling carbon could create a circular economy that vastly reduces pollution and waste.

Food Growers Use AI and Robotics to Tackle Pest Problem

Farmers around the world face serious challenges in growing food more effectively. Climate warming increases the risk of crop damage from insects, fungi, and bacteria. So to manage the threat farms are turning to artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and computer vision to target pests more effectively.

Bitcoin Code Switch Could Clean Up Crypto’s Dirty Image

Bitcoin has been told to clean up its act and drastically cut its environmental impact for the sake of the planet. Annual energy use for the Bitcoin blockchain is estimated to be more than Sweden’s national total. But campaigners say a simple software fix could slash its power use.

Gaming and VR Unleash Wave of Digital Therapies for Improved Health

People suffering from life-changing physical conditions, like losing a limb or paralysis caused by a stroke, often have a long, slow journey to regain function. But advances in digital therapies, using games and virtual reality, can make rehabilitation easier and are encouraging patients to make faster progress.

Can this New 'iTEARS' Technology Help Detect Diseases?

New technology is helping scientists decipher microscopic tear particles to offer clues to what’s going on inside the body. With a simple few drops of tears, this technology can help doctors and scientists detect eye disease and signs of diabetes.

Supercomputers and Artificial Intelligence Create Future Green Industries

Supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) are indispensable tools for cooking up the next generation of advanced materials. Advanced computers allow scientists to rapidly design better alloys, chemical catalysts, and plastics using millions of potential candidates. Tomorrow’s high-tech materials are being road-tested this way to cut down human trial and error.