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

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.

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.

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.

AI Tools Help to Predict Extreme Weather and Save Lives

Predicting extreme weather events is a tricky business. Changing climate conditions have increased the frequency of severe storms, floods, and heatwaves, along with larger wildfires. As a result, scientists are using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques for more accurate forecasts that help to minimize damage and save lives.

Digital Twin Cities Can Shrink the Impact of Planet’s Largest Polluters

Cities are the planet’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, so they offer the greatest opportunity to tackle climate change. Hitting net zero emissions by 2050, a target set at the COP26 summit, could be achieved more quickly using city digital twins – working virtual replicas – that help track, manage and reduce environmental damage rapidly.

All Rainwater is Unsafe to Drink According to Study

A study by Stockholm University and ETH Zurich scientists found that all rainwater on Earth is unsafe to drink due to the levels of PFAS, or toxic chemicals. These PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ are becoming a part of a future reality that humans must, unfortunately, learn to live with.

Extreme Weather Tests the Durability of Solar and Wind Power

As category four Hurricane Ian swept across the Caribbean into south west Florida on 28 September 2022, knocking out Cuba’s electricity grid along the way, hundreds of thousands of homes were hit by flooding and power loss. In contrast, the solar-powered community of Babcock Ranch 24 miles to the north of coastal town Fort Myers survived intact.

Sustainable Aviation Will Reduce Jet Fuel Emissions to Zero

Zero carbon flights are the ultimate goal for an airline industry that relies heavily on fossil fuels. Aviation pumps out at least 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions today. Sustainable aviation fuels will shrink the industry’s climate risk by 2030, but zero-emissions fuels like hydrogen are beginning to emerge.

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.