America’s Other Space Program
- Ruairi Glynn
- On January 15, 2006
Iâ€™ve been looking at using dirigibles for an interactive installation Iâ€™m thinking about building but more about that hopefully in the future. I found this while I was looking for some meteorological balloons. JP Aerospace is a volunteer-based organization developing cheap access to space using lighter than air systems and although it doesnâ€™t have the same sort of funding as the Scaled Composites space programme, it does have an interesting approach to cheap sustainable space tourism. Its been in development for over two decades with eighty â€˜real hardware test flightsâ€™ and expectations are for it to be completed in seven years.
â€˜Balloons have carried people and machines to the edge of space for over seventy years. JP Aerospace is developing the technology to fly a balloonï£§or more accurately, their relative, the airshipï£§directly to orbit. Flying an airship directly from the ground to orbit is not practical. An airship large enough to reach orbit would not survive the winds near the surface of the Earth. Conversely, an airship that could fly from the ground to upper atmosphere would not be light enough to reach space. The resulting configuration is a three-part architecture for using lighter-than-air vehicles to reach space.â€™
This 3 part system begins with an â€˜atmosphericâ€™ airship which will travel from the surface of the Earth to 140,000 feet and meet with a suborbital space station, a permanent, crewed facility called the DSS (Dark Sky Station). It will be here that they build the orbital airship initially and then use the DSS as the departure port.
â€˜The third part of the architecture is an airship/dynamic vehicle that flies directly to orbit. In order to utilize the few molecules of gas at extreme altitudes, this craft is big. The initial test vehicle is 6,000 feet (over a mile) long. The airship uses buoyancy to climb to 200,000 feet. From there it uses electric propulsion to slowly accelerate. As it accelerates it dynamically climbs. Over several days it reaches orbital velocity.â€™
â€˜The high altitude airship has been built and is awaiting test flights. Several Dark Sky Station platforms have been built and flown. Every piece of equipment for this system has been carried to 100,000 feet and tested in the environment. The first crewed DSS is scheduled to fly in eighteen months. The ion engine 120,000 foot flight test for the orbital airship will be flown in the next five months.â€™
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