A massive, autonomous, solar powered blimp, the StratoBus, aims to provide a platform for hi-tech surveillance and communications. While blimps, also known as airships, are generally only seen in the advertising industry, they still have a place in the hearts of researchers and aviators alike. The efforts of Thales Alenia Space, with help from Airbus Defense & Space, CEA-Liten and Zodiac Marine, have led to the development of the StratoBus airship
The 300-foot long, 25-foot wide carbon fiber blimp will maintain a stationary position in the stratosphere, 20,000 meters up, by using a pair of solar powered motors. At this height in our atmosphere, not even the clouds will be able to interfere with the collection of the sun’s rays. It’s also above the path of commercial airlines but below the satellites, limiting the possibility of interaction with other machines.
By maintaining its position, a number of possibilities open up. A reliable stream of high-resolution photos would allow advanced monitoring of our changing environment. Oil spills, forest fires, coastal erosion and much more could be closely monitored, allowing for more precise control efforts. The StratoBus could be used to extend telecommunications to developing countries or provide a bandage to overused networks during high stress events.
The StratoBus’s payload of between 400-500 lbs. may seem unproductive, but even some of the world’s largest blimps only carry 1,000 lbs. Much of the available capacity will be taken up with electronics and energy storage. The panels that make up the airship’s exterior are integrated into the photovoltaic system and feed into onboard fuel cells.
As of 2012, there were only 43 commercial blimps to be found worldwide, and for good reason. Blimps are expensive when compared to the amount of weight they can carry. This scientific foursome believes that the positives of the Stratobus design designs will greatly outweigh the monetary negatives, and hopes to add one more to those numbers by launching their first prototype by 2019.
Source| Photos: Thales Group