Quick, El Reg, go for it!
Now is the time to leverage all of the wonderful expertise gained with the intrepid Plamonauts, and go for that prize!
NASA is toying with the idea of a million-dollar-plus prize to encourage people to develop high-altitude airships for atmospheric research. According to its request for expressions of interest, the aeronautical agency wants ideas from industry, individuals and educational institutions. The “20-20-20 Airship Challenge” …
That's a lot of weather balloons, given that the Lohan test stuff has only been a couple of kilos load.
I wonder how accurate the height has to be? Tricky to balance a balloon 'just so' and it might need some active control in the Z direction. I suspect this is a job for a lifting-body balloon, perhaps. What about that thing they rolled out of Cardington earlier this year?
Probably the reason that airships are never going to be really succesful. They are just too large and cumbersome for most operations. (The problem in designing most flying craft is not just the flying bit. Its the "getting back to the ground in one piece" that requires a lot of thought)
Then you have to propel yourself into the wind. Most of that 20kg is going to be for that one task!
No it isn't. When they say 20kg payload they mean 20kg of useful cargo. The bits that do the lifting & navigation & propulsion etc are part of the vehicle, not part of the payload.
Prizes have worked for NASA before including the Lunar Lander Challenge and the new Spacesuit glove.
Station keeping with an airship should be better than a balloon, which is needed for long term static observations.
But lift falls with air density and at 20Km that's about 1/8 that of Sea Level.
I hope this produces results but it's not going to be easy.
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