Giant airships to replace satellites? This is REAL Genius
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Giant airships to replace satellites? This is REAL Genius

September 12, 2019


Launching satellites is an expensive and risky
business. Plenty have failed to get into orbit, more have failed and been written off once
they are up there and all will eventually fall back to Earth as flaming wreckage. So
why on Earth do we keep on sending so many up there, when we could just use airships
instead? That’s, slightly paraphrased, the findings
of a report by the The Keck Institute for Space studies, who’ve published the results
of a meeting last year between tech giants Nasa, Caltech, Lockheed Martin and Northrop
Grumman. And basically, they’ve decided that airships could replace a lot of satellites
for very little cost. Which sort of makes sense. Floating between 8 and 50 miles above
the Earth, airships are slow moving, and relatively easy to control, which makes them perfect
satellite replacements. At that height, they would be great for surveillance,
mobile communications, and even science, giving an image quality comparable to space-based
telescopes and far superior to most ground-based observatories. They can’t stay afloat as long
as satellites, needing refuelling every so often, but that’s a relatively easy thing
to do, as is bringing them home for repairs, upgrades or even complete conversion to another
payload type. That makes them, in the long run, more useful than satellites. Of course, there are problems, or we’d already
be doing it. The technology to heft useful payloads to useful heights would need plenty
of work to be commercially feasible. For example, DARPA and the US military sunk hundreds of
millions into the development of high-altitude airships nearly a decade ago, and so far,
as far as we know, the project still hasn’t flown. To that end, Keck has suggested something
like the X-prize for reusable rockets, with a reward for the first ship able to hover
at 12 miles altitude for 20 hours with a 20 kilo payload. Which wouldn’t practically be
very useful, but might at least spur competition. The other problem, of course, is getting permission
to fly through other countries airspace. Which means that the sci-fi sort-of steam
punk era of giant floating sky bases might not be so far away.

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  1. Hey, I'm a new subscriber. I love your vids. One suggestion though: fixing the clarity when you're speaking into the camera. You don't look as clear and high-res as you should. Besides that, great video.

  2. 0:38 That's a clever design for an airship. It looks like two or three built into one. That would greatly increase stability. It reminds me how the Japanese combined two submarine hulls to make an aircraft carrier submarine in WW2. Do you have links to this airship design? I'd like to learn more about how it works. Cheers.

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