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1 February 2014

A I R S H I P S :
A New Horizon for Science
Study report prepared for The Keck Institute for Space Studies
www.kiss.caltech.edu/study/airship/
Opening Workshop:

April 30-May 3, 2013

Closing Workshop:

September 25-27, 2013

Summit on Tethers:

November 18, 2013

Study Co-leads:
Sarah Miller (UCI/Caltech), Robert Fesen (Dartmouth), Lynne Hillenbrand (Caltech), Jason Rhodes (JPL)
Study Participants:
Gil Baird (ILC Dover), Geoffrey Blake (Caltech), Jeff Booth (JPL), David E. Carlile (Lockheed Martin ADP), Riley
Duren (JPL), Frederick G. Edworthy (Aeros), Brent Freeze (Sorlox Corporation), Randall R. Friedl (JPL), Paul F.
Goldsmith (JPL), Jeffery L. Hall (JPL), Scott E. Hoffman (Northrop Grumman), Scott E. Hovarter (Lockheed Martin
Space Systems), Rebecca M. Jensen-Clem (Caltech), Ross M. Jones (JPL), Jens Kauffmann (Caltech), Alina
Kiessling (JPL), Oliver G. King (Caltech), Nick Konidaris (Caltech), Timothy L. Lachenmeier (Near Space
Corporation), Steven D. Lord (Caltech/IPAC), Jessica Neu (JPL), Gregory R. Quetin (University of Washington),
Alan Ram (Northrop Grumman), Stanley Sander (JPL), Marc Simard (JPL), Mike Smith (Raven Aerostar), Steve
Smith (Southwest Research Institute), Sara Smoot (Stanford), Sara Susca (JPL), Abigail Swann (University of
Washington), Eliot F. Young (Southwest Research Institute), Thomas Zambrano (AeroVironment, Inc.)

Keck Institute for Space Studies

California Institute of Technology

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Pasadena, CA

Copyright 2014

Table of Contents
E x e c u t i v e S u m m a r y
Summary of Recommendations

C h a p t e r 1 :

1
2

Airships as a Platform for Science


Challenges for Earth Science

Challenges for Space Science

A Compelling Opportunity for Scientists

Unique Airship Capabilities for Earth and Atmospheric Science

Advantages of Space Science from a High-Altitude Airship Platform

A True Platform Capability Gap Across Science

The Complementarity of Airships and Balloons

Motivation for the Keck Institute Study on Science Aboard Airships

C h a p t e r 2 :

10

11

13

Past, Current, and Future Airships


Dening an Airship

13

A Brief History of Airships

13

Current Operational or Planned Airship Examples

16

BD2

16

MZ-3A

17

LEMV

17

HiSentinel

17

HALE-D

17

ISIS

17

Star Light

18

Science vs. Military Requirements for Airships

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

18

C h a p t e r 3 :

19

The Stratospheric Environment


Summary

19

Challenges of the Stratospheric Environment

19

Stratospheric Winds at 20 km (~65 kft)

21

Zonal winds (u)

23

Meridional winds (v)

23

Thermal Environment at 65 kft

26

Solar Environment at 65 kft

28

Airship Propulsion

29

Atmospheric Turbulence

30

C h a p t e r 4 :

31

Case Studies for Science Aboard Airships


In Earth and Atmospheric Science

31

Megacity Emissions and Air Quality

32

Tropical Carbon Cycling

33

Coastal Ecosystems

35

Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences

37

Airship-based Sub-mm Interferometer for Imaging Black Hole Event Horizons

38

Sub-mm/THz Interferometer for Protoplanetary Disk Science

40

Hubble-Competitive Imaging

41

C h a p t e r 5 :

43

The Path Forward


Consensus Recommendations

43

I. A Roadmap to Affordable Airship Platforms in the Stratosphere

45

Motivations for Producing a Scalable Stratospheric Airship Via a Challenge Scenario

45

A Centennial Challenge Opportunity at NASA

47

What would a Challenge Competition look like?

48

Open Questions for Specic Stratospheric Observatory Concepts Long-term

49

Sustaining a Community Base for Continued Development

50

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

ii

II. Utilization of Existing Low-to-Mid Altitude Airships

50

III. Summary and Conclusions Regarding Stratospheric Tethered Aerostats

51

Tethered Aerostat vs. Airship Platform Capabilities

52

Recommendations for Stratospheric Tether Development and Future Work Plan

53

Final Remarks

53

R e f e r e n c e s

54

A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s

56

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

iii

Executive Summary
The Airships: A New Horizon for Science study at the Keck Institute for Space Studies investigated the potential of a variety of
airships currently operable or under development to serve as observatories and science instrumentation platforms for arange
of space, atmospheric and Earth science. The participants represent a diverse cross-section of the aerospace sector, NASA,
and academia. They are leaders in their respective elds who have built or are building high altitude airships, or are Earth,
atmospheric, planetary, or astrophysics scientists interested in exploiting airship platforms.
Over the last two decades, there has been wide interest in developing a high altitude, stratospheric lighter-than-air (LTA) airship
that could maneuver and remain in a desired geographic position (i.e., "station-keeping") for weeks, months or even years.
Such a stratospheric airship would offer the military surveillance capabilities over large areas. This platform would also provide
telecommunication companies a means of providing commercial communication and data services to consumers in remote
areas. While stratospheric airships remain a promise rather than a reality today, seeing through the nal stages of
development of such vehicles operating in the relatively light winds present in the lower stratosphere at altitudes around 65 kft
(20 km), would enable unique data collection opportunities for Earth and atmospheric scientists. They would be a gamechanger for space scientists since their costs as a platform would be substantially lower than satellite missions.
The original goals of the study were to:

1)

Inform scientists of the capabilities of airship vehicles as instrumental platforms, as well as discuss how this
technology could be expanded and improved to better accommodate science instrumentation requirements.

2)

Identify science observational/experimental projects that are uniquely addressed by airship vehicles, as well as
science which can be supported by airships at a signicantly lower cost than other platforms (i.e., satellites).

3)

Construct science concepts for viable airship platforms.

Our study found considerable scientic value in both low altitude (< 40 kft) and high altitude (> 60 kft) airships across a wide
spectrum of space, atmospheric, and Earth science programs. An airship provides persistent, high-resolution measurements
that ll an observational scale gap in Earth and atmospheric science between "anecdotal" ground-based or aircraft
measurements and coarse-resolution satellite measurements. In addition, in situ and remote sensing views of our dynamic
and evolving atmosphere, Earth ecosystems, coastal processes, atmospheric plume chemistry, extreme weather, upper
troposphere and lower stratosphere processes like convection and exchange across the tropopause could all be made
possible using airships. Airships also open up the parameter space of long-duration, high spatio-temporal resolution
observations of "Urban Dome" air quality associated with large cities. For instance in astrophysics, a 1-2 meter optical
telescope placed at about 65 kft with state-of-the-art pointing stability would have superior resolving power to any optical
ground-based telescope, providing exceptional image quality night after night above the weather.
While free-ying stratospheric balloons enable a wide range of observations, they do not satisfy the station-keeping needs of
some applications, nor the long duration, global access needs of others. Over the course of the study period, we identied
stratospheric tethered aerostats as a viable alternative to airships where station-keeping was valued over maneuverability.
By opening up the sky and Earth's stratospheric horizon in affordable ways with long-term exibility, airships allow us to push
technology and science forward in a project-rich environment that complements existing space observatories as well as
aircraft and high-altitude balloon missions. Science, rather than war, could be the ultimate motivator to push industry toward

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

nal development of stratospheric airships, which will provide a unique platform for monitoring our most precious resource, the
Earth, and for seeking out the new cosmic horizons toward the edge of our observable universe.

Summary of Recommendations
The study concluded with three follow-on recommendations:

I.

Build a roadmap to stratospheric airship observatories: Establish a "Challenge/Prize" for the development of a
maneuverable, station-keeping, stratospheric airship, which can stay aloft at an altitude above 65 kft (20 km) for at
least a full diurnal cycle (>20 hours) while carrying a science payload of at least 20 kg in mass.

II.

Take advantage of existing low and mid altitude airships: Develop a consortium led by atmospheric and Earth
science users to make immediate use of existing low altitude airships for a wide variety of science programs.

III.

Pursue technical development of stratospheric tethered platforms: Construct and y one or more LTA
stratospheric vehicles tethered to the ground, a sea vessel, or even a secondary lower altitude aerial vehicle, to test
their use as science platforms.

Illustration of an airship observatory concept, including a world-class telescope mounted on the top of the airship and a suite of
Earth and atmospheric instruments mounted on the bottom. Mike Hughes (Eagre Interactive) / Keck Institute for Space Studies

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

Chapter 1:

Airships as a Platform for


Science
Airships as a Platform for Science
Challenges for Earth Science
Future Earth science efforts must untangle profoundly
complex, large-scale natural and human interactions in
pursuit of understanding and predicting environmental
change impacts at local and regional scales. The greatest
impediment to these efforts is in successfully connecting
phenomena across a wide range of temporal and
geographical scales. A platform enabling persistent, high
resolution, local-to-regional scale observations would
ll a critical niche within Earth observing platforms.
The potential for such a platform to advance Earth science
can be understood within the context of existing Earth
observing platforms. Iconic, space-based images of the

Image credit: NASA

Earth, such as Earth Rise, Pale Blue Dot, and Blue and Black
Marbles have not only transformed human perceptions of our Planet but have revealed a complex system of interactions
among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere, as well as human activities.
As highlighted in the latest Decadal Survey report regarding Earth sciences from the National Research Council (NRC, 2007 Earth), the unique capabilities of space-based observations are proving to be essential in discovering and understanding largescale Earth system issues such as:
The extent and chemistry of the ozone hole
The transport of air pollution between countries and continents
The rates of glacial and sea ice retreat
Changes in land cover and use due to both human and natural causes
Changing weather patterns due to pollution and land conversion
The complex interactions between earthquake faults
The global-scale effects of El Nio and La Nia on weather and the ocean's state and productivity
The development and tracking of hurricanes, typhoons, and other severe storms
Assessing damage from natural disasters and targeting relief.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

Satellite observations, in conjunction with key ground and airborne data, are showing that global-scale change is occurring in
the Earth system at an unprecedented rate. In particular such observations reveal that:
Human impacts on the Earth system are readily observable
from space
Carbon dioxide levels have risen to historic levels
Sea level is rising at an accelerating pace
Snow cover, sea ice, and glaciers are shrinking at
unprecedented rates
Arctic ecosystems are undergoing rapid change

Image credit: NASA

While satellite measurements provide a global perspective on


these rapid changes in the Earth-ocean-atmosphere system

and ground and airborne data provide local or short-term measurements at ne spatiotemporal scales, we lack long-term,
persistent measurements that can provide a critical link between small scale processes and regional and global long-term
change.

Challenges for Space Science


Many frontier areas of space sciences, planetary physics,
astrophysics and cosmology rely on being above at least 95% of
the atmosphere for key science acquisition. The Hubble Space
Telescope has been one of the most successful space science
enterprises in human history. With its invariably high oversubscription rate across its extended life-time, the astronomical
community will suffer a great loss when this UV-optical
observatory is nally extinguished. Hubble has enabled Nobleprize winning science regarding the expansion rate of the
universe and dark energy, the discovery of the most distant
galaxies, and the deepest probes of matter, including dark
matter, in the universe. While the astronomical community
eagerly anticipates the 6.5-m James Webb Space Telescope
(2018 launch) for unprecedentedly crisp and sensitive imaging
and spectroscopy in the infrared and red optical light, currently
no open space-based observatory-class facility capable of
acquiring wavelengths short-ward of the red part of the

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th
Anniversary Team (STScI)

electromagnetic spectrum is planned to take Hubble's place. The European Space Agency will launch the highly anticipated
Euclid space telescope (1.2-m) in 2020, covering near-infrared and optical wavelengths down to 550 nm, however the
program of this Medium Class mission is set over 6 years and thus is not an open facility for the community like Hubble.
With a similarly high over-subscription rate to Hubble, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope is revolutionizing
far-infrared and millimeter technology. However, large swaths of the spectrum to which ALMA could be sensitive are blocked
out by the Earth's atmosphere. Even the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) observatory cannot access

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

spectral regions absorbed by the atmosphere above its operating altitude of ~40 kft, leaving a signicant fraction of the
Terahertz sky unexplored. It is likely that precious clues to understanding the births of stars, exosolar planetary systems,
exoplanet atmospheres, and signatures of life beyond Earth await us in these uncharted regions of the spectrum. Having a
platform just 20 kft higher than SOFIA would make a remarkable difference to what space scientists can observe.
Additionally, astrophysicists require more exible technology development in space-like conditions without space-like difculty.
For instance the new detector technology needed for probing the epoch of ination and the extremely high-redshift early
universe would be greatly aided by a exible, accessible, near-space platform, saving millions in development.
To answer the big, outstanding questions faced by space scientists, their communities increasingly rely on massive projects
and collaborations, which ultimately limit programmatic exibility as well as the holistic training of future research leaders.
Clearly underlined in the National Research Council Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (NRC Astro2010) is the need
for a hierarchy of project sizes, both to train our next generation as well as to allow for more immediate and exible
investigations.

A Compelling Opportunity for Scientists


A Compelling Opportunity for Scientists
Interest in the development and use of long duration, lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles for science applications has grown
considerably in recent years, especially those with the capability to maintain station over a desired geographic position
("station-keeping"). Conventional airships ("blimps") generally have a streamlined structure and gain their altitude through
buoyancy rather than lift, with enclosed lightweight gas such as hydrogen or helium. Historically, airships have been own at
relatively low altitudes (< 10 kft) but have the distinct advantage over aircraft of being able to stay aloft and/or hover a long
time without refueling and do so at a relatively low cost of energy consumption (see the recent historical review of airships by
Liao and Pasternak 2009).
Ever since the development of high altitude balloons in the 1950's there has been a strong desire to develop higher altitude
airships with the idea of a station keeping LTA vehicle that could operate for many days or even months. Such a vehicle could
be powered by photovoltaic cells and operate in the relatively light winds in the lower stratosphere at altitudes around 65 kft.
There has been and currently is wide interest in such a high altitude airship. Wireless communications using high altitude LTA
platforms for broadcast services have long been considered by telecommunication companies as a way to expand
commercial communication and data services to consumers. These platforms could combine some of the best features of
satellite and xed wireless services such as short transmission delay times, small propagation loss, and relatively large service
areas (Tozer and Grace 2001, Grace et al 2005). Programs such as the European HELINET and HAPCOS projects 1, the
Japanese Stratospheric Airship Platform Study (Eguchi et al 1998), and the recent Google internet balloon project ("Project
Loon") 2 are among some of the most recent efforts to use high-altitude (> 60 kft altitude) balloons for telecommunication
purposes.
High altitude, station-keeping LTA platforms also have several obvious military applications. The United States Department of
Defense (US DoD) alone has spent more than $500 million dollars over the last decade developing the necessary technology.
Across all military services, there is an ever-increasing demand for real-time communications and "over-the-horizon"
surveillance capabilities. LTA vehicles that could operate at stratospheric altitude could offer large surveillance areas and good

www.hapcos.org

www.google.com/loon

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

air defense survivability factors. For example, an airship at an altitude of 70 kft would have a line-of-sight regional coverage
some 650 miles in diameter, meaning that just one such vehicle could, for example, survey nearly all of Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the potential for longer on-station times of airships compared to high altitude aircraft (like the U2 and the Global
Hawk) along with a low probability of communication intercept due to stable, direct line-of-sight communications are major
advantages of airships. In a way, an airship could function as a surrogate satellite but offer much shorter transmission
distances and ranges and thus higher resolution for connectivity of ground transmitters and receivers. The most aggressive,
well-funded series of efforts to develop a high-altitude airship have been pursued by the US DoD. A comprehensive review of
these efforts and programs can be found in the October 2012 US Government Accountability Ofce Report GAO-13-81 and is
summarized in this report in Chapter 2.
In this chapter, we introduce the tremendous scientic potential of airships as scientic platforms, including the development of
a robust, high-altitude, lighter-than-air science platform that could maneuver and station-keep for many weeks to several
months, and how airships t into the existing suite of science platforms available today.

Unique Airship Capabilities for Earth and Atmospheric Science


Unique Airship Capabilities for Earth and Atmospheric Science
Earth and Atmospheric Science observations are currently carried out using ground measurements, static towers, ships,
balloons, aircraft and satellites. These mature platforms allow for the observation of phenomena such as chemical emissions,
weather dynamics and land cover change over many time scales and across diverse regions of the Earth. Each platform
requires a trade-off between coverage and persistence. For example, an aircraft can map a region of aerosols or the biological
emissions of a forest, but it only revisits every air parcel by circling back on a specic area. The process of circling back on an
area sets a lower limit for the revisit time of that particular air parcel. A static tower can measure an area continuously but
cannot follow a moving parcel of air and is limited by reachable and appropriate areas for placement. A balloon-mounted
instrument might follow along with a parcel of air but the requirements for the launch location of the balloon and the control of
its buoyancy will limit the geographical areas of study and persistence with the phenomenon of interest.
Airships as scientic platforms allow new access to a set of phenomena not currently accessible by existing
platforms. In general terms this set of Earth and atmospheric sciences phenomena are characterized by the combination of
difcult ground access or important ow-dependent evolution and the desire to observe with persistence on timescales of a
day to a week. Some example phenomena that t this description are urban, biological or geological atmospheric or ocean
emission plumes (e.g. wild res), remote ice dynamics and remote forest dynamics. The capabilities of an airship would allow
for a relatively rapid response to the location of a dynamic event such as a wild re and then drift with the plume while
continuously measuring the rapid chemical reactions occurring in the plume. Such measurements are critical to understanding
the transport of pollutants as well as the natural reactive processes occurring in the atmosphere. Alternatively a long
endurance airship could enable persistent observations of regions around the Earth that have never before been explored in
this manner, from the arctic sea ice to the tropical Amazon forest where over-land travel is prohibitively difcult. Both polar
areas and the tropical rain forests are changing rapidly under climate change, and many processes critical for our
understanding of their current and future health modulate over a daily cycle observable only in one location by towers
established and operated at great cost. Some locations of interest in these areas are not presently accessible in any way. An
airship has the potential for week-long endurance, mobility at multiple altitudes and the capability to hold position. Airship
capabilities at low, medium and high altitude all have applications to open up parts of the world that have never been explored
before in scientic detail.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

Airships can ll a current gap between "anecdotal" (occasional or sporadic) ground-based observations and the lack of
persistence and resolution from aircraft and satellite measurements, respectively. The capabilities of airships allow unique
study of land, sea and air providing access to new regions of the planet. At extremely low altitudes for a xed-wing aircraft, an
airship can function as a mobile in-situ laboratory while at altitudes from 2040 kft or > 60 kft, it can be a platform for colocation of an observatory of remote sensing instruments or in-situ measurements of intercontinental transport of pollution,
exchange of water vapor and ozone-related gases across the tropopause, climate feedbacks on stratospheric dynamics, and/
or springtime polar ozone loss.

Advantages of Space Science from a High-Altitude Airship Platform


Advantages of Space Science from a High-Altitude Airship Platform
Cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics, planetary and other space sciences could greatly benet from a persistent observing
platform possessing space-like conditions, with capabilities that the current suite of NASA platforms does not offer.
Astronomical space satellites are expensive, typically costing more than hundreds of millions of dollars, and often require
extensive timelines to build. NASA's large high altitude balloons own in or near the polar regions offer a less expensive and
more rapid alternative but cannot take us everywhere scientists need to be, nor for as long as they wish to be there.
A stratospheric astronomy airship could provide space-like observing conditions across a broad range of wavelength regimes
and be launched quickly, affordably, and repeatedly. Even a modest telescope at stratospheric altitudes would provide image
quality that could compete with space-based telescopes (see Von Appen-Schnur and Luks 1998 describing the advantages
of a high altitude observatory).
Large gains in atmospheric transmission, especially in the millimeter and sub-millimeter (THz) spectral region over groundbased observations, and even the SOFIA aircraft, are possible from altitudes of 60 kft or higher. Above 45 kft many
advantages appear. This is the start of the tropopause, where liquid water freezes out of the atmosphere. The freezing-out of
water allows far-infrared radiation to easily reach 60 kft, opening up the view of the "cool molecular Universe" photometrically
and spectroscopically from 30-600 mm. Likewise, soft X-rays can penetrate downward to ~60 kft.
Airships will also permit long duration observing timeframes yielding high sensitivity via deep integrations and excellent point
spread functions ("seeing"). In certain wavelength regimes, an airship-based telescope (compared to a ground-based
observatory) would also enjoy nearly continuous "dark time" observing conditions due to greatly decreased sky brightness and
scattering by moonlight. Airships could also provide rapid response for time-critical astronomical observations of a variety of
astronomical events such as newly discovered comets, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, and other unpredictable transits.

A True Platform Capability Gap Across Science


Airships represent an exciting complement and alternative to expensive geosynchronous earth orbiting (GEO) satellites or
constellations of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. A stable platform positioned in the lower or middle stratosphere (60-90 kft)
would provide a space-like observation outpost far more accessible and less expensive than GEO or LEO platforms. Given an
increasing number of well-motivated scientic satellite missions in the last three decades, there are strong drivers for the use of
relatively inexpensive LTA vehicles for a wide range of Earth and space applications.
In particular for Earth science, the capabilities of stratospheric LTA platforms could be complementary to that of spacecraft
(Smith and Rainwater 2003). While LEO satellites have proven to be extremely effective at capturing large-scale context, they
do not provide persistent observations of specic localities or regions owing to their rapid orbital traverses. As a complement

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

to LEO satellites, GEO satellites obtain continuous observations of specic regions but typically at the expense of degraded
spatial resolution. Neither GEO nor sun synchronous LEO satellites can capture diurnal behavior of targeted phenomena.
Also, given their higher cost and complexity, relatively few satellites are launched per year. The low replenishment rate of
NASA Earth satellites has been particularly acute over the past decade, with the present set of environmental satellites
operating well beyond their design life, placing the system as a whole in danger of collapse (NRC, 2007 - Earth). These
satellite systems cost on the order of 1 billion USD (10-100 times the cost of airships) and typically conduct specically
designed experiments on non-reusable platforms.
Recognizing the need for critical and affordable observations that span the range of Earth processes, the National Global
Change Research Plan (USGCRP, 2012) seeks to sustain and strengthen the capacity to observe long-term changes in the
global Earth system and integrate observations to improve fundamental understanding of the complex causes and
consequences of global change. As part of that capacity, the NRC nds that alternative platforms, such as balloons and
aerial vehicles, offer exibility and may be employed, in some cases, to lower the cost, relative to satellites, of meeting science
objectives (NRC, 2012).
Figure 1.1 compares the observational attributes of airships to other major platforms. In contrast to satellites, suborbital
platforms obtain higher spatial resolution, capture diurnal behavior and, relative to LEO, provide more persistent local and
regional observations. However, these advantages typically come at the expense of large-scale spatial coverage and

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Figure 1.1: Four regimes of Earth science measurement attributes: airship (high spatial and temporal resolution, diurnal to
seasonal temporal coverage, local to regional spatial coverage), conventional xed-wing aircraft (high spatial resolution,
low temporal resolution, seasonal to inter annual temporal coverage, regional to continental spatial coverage), LEO satellites
(moderate spatial resolution, low temporal resolution, weekly to inter annual temporal coverage, global spatial coverage), GEO
satellites (low spatial resolution, high temporal resolution, diurnal to inter annual temporal coverage, continental to third-osphere spatial coverage).

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

Attempts to study critical chemical and dynamical processes in the Earths stratosphere are severely limited by available
observing platforms. Earlier investigations of stratospheric ozone utilized high altitude balloons and aircraft (ER-2, WB-57) for
limited spatial (single location to hundreds of kilometers) and short duration (~410 hours) measurements. As highlighted
earlier in this section, there are currently many outstanding issues in Earth science that require longer duration observations at
higher altitudes (e.g. stratosphere) beyond that possible with balloons and conventional aircraft.
For space sciences, xed-wing aircraft, like SOFIA, can achieve multiple ights that add up to many hours of observing time,
but come at great cost. SOFIA is expensive to operate and can only do so for hours at a time, and can only reach maximum
altitudes of about 45 kft under special circumstances (more typically operating at 39 kft). An absence of turbulence on an
airship allows for greatly simplied telescope stabilization, instrument reusability, and increased duration of observations. Thus,
airships as maneuverable lighter-than-air vehicles, are the most viable option for long duration, space-like stratospheric
observations where the ability to station-keep is key.

The Complementarity of Airships and Balloons


It is important to recognize that the use of airships for science is focused on those applications that existing free-ying balloon
platforms either cannot meet at all or that provide substantially less attractive performance in terms of ight duration, reusability
or geographic access. One set of such applications are those that require station-keeping over a particular geographic
location. Free-ying balloons can at best provide only very short duration coverage in such situations during a brief overight of
the target area. Tethered balloons are a good solution to the station-keeping problem, but current technology limits the altitude
of tethered balloons to approximately 15 kft. As a result, the need for long duration, high altitude station-keeping became a
primary driver for the recent military investments in stratospheric airships.
Most free-ying balloons are limited to ight durations of up to a few days. This is particularly true of the stratospheric zero
pressure balloons long used by NASA and other agencies for carrying large scientic payloads for astronomical research. An
important exception to this limitation is Antarctic ight during polar summer where ight durations of 30-40 days have been
achieved. However, the constant daylight in this environment precludes all optical astronomical observations and the
geographic coverage is highly restricted.
NASA has been developing an Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) based on superpressure balloon technology with the
objective of 3 month ights anywhere on Earth. However, this system is still under development and has yet to resolve the
political obstacle that many countries refuse overight permission for balloons. Given the prevailing stratospheric wind
patterns, all long duration free-ying balloons will circumnavigate the planet leading to unavoidable overight situations at any
given latitude. The net result is that this promising technology may be severely limited in its operational endurance and
geographic access, thereby leaving large gaps in coverage, especially in the northern hemisphere where the majority of the
overight issues exist. High-altitude balloon programs currently operate out of the following sites: McMurdo, Antarctica; Kiruna,
Sweden; Alice Springs, Australia. The lack of geographical deployment of balloons is predicated by its free-ying nature. An
airship, under propulsion enjoys the scientic benets of a stratospheric site along with the freedom of light-path control.
No free-ying balloon is reusable, although payloads are generally recovered after being parachuted to the ground. However, it
is not uncommon for payloads to be damaged upon landing, particularly in remote geographic areas with hazardous terrain.
Therefore, a signicant advantage of an airship platform is the potential ability to bring the payload back to a safe landing at a
specied location and thereby save the expense of repair or replacement of scientic payloads.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

10

While high-altitude balloons have been and will continue to be a key asset for a variety of science goals, airships provide
complementary abilities for missions requiring:
Increased payload capacity/exibility (ultimately, depending on the altitude, the promise is 500-10,000 lbs of
payload and 100s of feet in length and/or width dimensions, needed for interferometric baselines)
Maneuverability to follow or map phenomena
Ease and increased exibility of payload launch and recovery
Mission longevity (weeks to months - possibly even years - rather than days)
Communications and data retrieval

Motivation for the Keck Institute Study on Science Aboard Airships


The original goals of this study were to identify and investigate the science capabilities of existing low-altitude airships, as well
as stratospheric airships under development, to serve Earth, atmospheric, and space science goals. Airships as science
platforms could have very different ight and duration characteristics compared to those for particular military or
telecommunication missions. Scientists can be more exible, adapting the ships' proven capabilities to their needs. However,
while less stringent and narrow, the basic requirements of long-duration, mobility, and stability are similar.
Airships open up exciting new research opportunities. They could serve as complementary science platforms to both groundbased, other air-based and space-based facilities. Once reliable airships are fully developed, their advantages in greater
duration and recoverability over existing high-altitude balloon ights in the stratosphere will make them a very powerful tool for
scientic research across an unusually broad spectrum.
On September 5, 2012 the DoD released a statement in which it outlined its future aims for oversight and guidance for its
continued investment in airship development (which includes various contractors participating in this study). These goals
include a wish to ensure cross-fertilization of [airship] technology, coordinating interagency efforts, and sponsoring airshiprelated conferences, reviews, table top exercises and academic studies as appropriate. This presents a timely opportunity to
apply the detailed outcomes from this study to leverage signicant multi-agency support for future follow-on studies and
projects regarding a (multi-)science airship platform. Because of the great potential to create programmatic space, e.g. at the
SMEX or MIDEX funding level for NASA (< $10 million USD), and equivalently at other relevant agencies, a key output of this
study are the recommendations for both near- and long-term program strategies to be considered either individually by
appropriate agencies or potentially towards combined, inter-agency efforts.
Momentum for a comprehensive study of science opportunities on airships has grown over the last several years. Some study
members have even helped to lead this activity: Fesen has been researching airships for over 10 years and has organized
workshops on the use of stratospheric airships for astronomical observations. Miller led communication with the airship team
at Northrop Grumman to explore the parameters of developing various airship science platform from 2010 until the
commencement of this study. In April of 2012, Kauffmann and Goldsmith organized a successful workshop to discuss both
balloon and airship opportunities for space and earth science at JPL. Presentations were given by members of both JPL and
industry (including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) with several participants of this study in attendance, including
Lord who has developed a sophisticated atmospheric model to project observing conditions from various airship altitudes.
Rhodes, who has had a continued interest in high-altitude observing, organized a NASA task-force workshop in July 2012
regarding communication and data retrieval for high-altitude balloons and airships. Duren has led various efforts in the last
several years to exploit existing lower-altitude airships for Earth and atmospheric science. Due to the increasing interest

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

11

apparent from these events, actions and the discussions which followed, the leaders of this study organized a systematic
program to clearly dene what science can best utilize these platforms and how, and importantly, to chart a practical way
forward with key experts and leaders gathered from their respective elds.
Over the course of the study new goals were generated. (1) We assessed ways to spur the development of stratospheric
airship technology to maturity so that it may become a viable platform for use by the science community, and (2) we assessed
the ability of tethered balloons to meet the needs of science, including concepts of new stratospheric tethered platforms.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

12

Chapter 2:

Past, Current, and Future


Airships
Dening an Airship
Airships are lighter-than-air vehicles that can generate their own thrust for maneuvers. The external structure or envelope of
such craft fall into three categories: rigid, semi-rigid, and non-rigid.
Rigid airships are built with material stretched on a full structural frame. The Zeppelins are an example, using light alloy girders
to support gas cells. Semi-rigid craft typically have a lower arced keel that maintains the ships shape. Non-rigid ships have
envelopes that are supported by the gas pressure alone (e.g., the blimps). Airships currently under study include the so-called
hybrid designs that not only rely on buoyancy from helium to stay aloft, but also incorporate an aerodynamically shaped
airfoil that provides additional lift. Some new designs additionally employ vectored thrust, where the on-board propulsion
may be aligned in any direction, offering additional altitude control. In the hybrid airship, the three forces of buoyancy, lift, and
thrust are combined to direct the craft.

A Brief History of Airships


The earliest airships were French inventions comprised simply of manned balloons carrying hand-powered propulsion devices.
The rst, in 1784, used a hand-cranked propeller, while a second, a year later, using wing-like structures, successfully crossed
the English Channel. Airship builders soon employed the latest technological advances with designs progressing rapidly during
the second half of the 19th Century. Propulsion systems were soon powered by steam engines, internal combustion engines,
and even electrical motors. During this period, war spurred-on the development of airships, chiey for military surveillance. In a
wide variety of designs, the virtue of these craft in providing surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities (so long as the
platform required only modest mobility) was repeatedly demonstrated. The rst decade of the 1900s marked the early use of
airships for scientic investigations as Wellman and Vaniman attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, exploration of the North Pole
from airships.
The new century saw worldwide enthusiasm for the use of airships with many important developments: the mass production
of the successful non-rigid body Astra-Torres airships by the French; the advent of the successful Zeppelin series of rigidbody airships; the emergence of numerous production companies in France, Italy, and Germany, and the Goodrich Company
in the US, and the rst trans-Atlantic crossing attempt.
WWI was a turning point for the use of airships. While the Germans expended enormous effort and resources in a eet of
airships capable of bombing and machine-gunning, it was soon realized that their actual effectiveness was relatively

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

13

insignicant. The ships were too prone to mechanical failure, bad weather, and general bombardment inaccuracy. These
airships terrorized but did not inict signicant damage from a military perspective. While the hydrogen-lled ships were
(contrary to belief) not explosive and leaked only slowly when punctured by bullets, they were quite susceptible to devastating
re from incendiary projectiles res, which the hydrogen lifting gas did in fact aid. Incendiary counter-attacks effectively
ended the bombing role of airships. But what was learned during the war was the airships value for surveillance. They made
good scouts, which was especially useful for naval war vessels approaching distant shores. After the war, treaties forbade
further German military airship development.
The period between WWI and WWII marked the heyday of the large rigid airships with examples including Germanys
commercially oriented Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg and the US Navys Akron and Macon. Many of these airships were lost in
crashes, most famously the crash of the Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. The rest were dismantled
early in WWII. Development also continued on non-rigid airships between the wars to the point where they were used in WWII
for antisubmarine patrol missions. After the war, larger versions were used for anti-submarine patrol and airborne early
warning missions, thanks to the addition of a large radar mounted inside the hull. The last of these non-rigids were
decommissioned in 1962.
The US Navy attempted to get back into airships in the mid-1980s with the YEZ-2A Naval Airship Program. This was to be a
large, radar-carrying airship for airborne early warning missions, WestinghouseAirship Industries (WAI) won the contract with
their Sentinel 5000 design. As part of the program, a half scale demonstrator, the Sentinel 1000, was constructed and own.
While funding for the Naval Airship Program was cut in 1989, the Sentinel 1000 continued development and ight testing until
it was destroyed in a hangar re in 1995.

Airships Currently in Use or Under Development


Airships Currently in Use or Under Development
Among the results from the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and the resulting Global War on Terror has been a renewed
interest in airships and their potential in affordably providing a platform for persistent intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The relatively permissive air defense environment in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with the
need to follow insurgent movements over lengthy times to counter such things as improvised explosive devices t well with
airship capabilities. Several examples of the different kinds of DoD programs are shown in Figure 2.1 and Table 2.1.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

14

Figure 2.1 (Exhibit 1 of the of the Congressional Budget Ofces 2011 report: Recent Development Efforts for Military
Airships.") This illustration shows that current airships under development range in size from that of the Goodyear Blimp to an
aircraft carrier. (The airlift or transportation airships shown above, are not germane to this report.)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

15

Mission

Table
able 2.1: General Characteristics of Airships Under Consideration by DoD (2011)
Operating Airship
Altitude
Endurance or Status of Technology Characteristics
Altitude Type and
(Feet)
Range

Examples (1st Flight)


Intelligence,
Low
Surveillance, & Altitude
Reconnaissance

Conventional

Up to about 100 to 300


20,000
hours

One system currently Relatively


operating;
mature
Others under contechnology
struction

Up to about 500 hours


20,000

Technology demonstrations ongoing

Uses static lift from


helium, aerodynamic
lift from the shape of
the envelope, and
vectored thrust to
stay aloft

65,000 to
75,000

Greater than
400 hours

Technology demonstrations ongoing

Very large envelope


volume to sustain lift

65,000 to
75,000

100 to 300
hours

Technology demonstrations ongoing

Payload is
detachable and
returns to the point of
origin; airship is
single-use

BD2 (2012)
MZ-3A (2006)
Hybrid

LEMV (2012)

High
Altitude

Conventional

HALE-D (2011)
HiSentinel (2005)
ISIS (2010)
PayloadReturn

Star Light (N/A)

Table 2.1 Based on Exhibit 3 of the Congr


Congressional
essional Budget Ofce
Ofces 2011 report:
eport: Recent Development Ef
Efforts for Military
Airships." This table shows the various airship classications recently
recently and currently
currently under examination under various DoD
programs.
ograms. Several examples ar
are
e also shown. More
More information is given in the following section.

Current Operational or Planned Airship Examples


Current Operational or Planned Airship Examples
BD2

BD2

The Blue Devil 2 airship, built by Mav6, is a conventional non-rigid designed to y at 20 kft for 4 to 5 days with a 2,500 lb ISR
payload including onboard processing that makes it an aerial data fusion node. Originally scheduled for rst ight in the fall of
2011, the program was cancelled in June, 2012 due to technical and programmatic challenges.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

16

MZ-3A
The Navys MZ-3A, a modied American Blimp Corporation A-170 commercial airship, is a 178 ft long non-rigid ISR airship
that carries a crew. It is currently the only operational airship in the DoD and is used for payload test and evaluation. It was
used recently to monitor the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The MZ-3A is a platform for up to 2,500 lb of
cameras, radar and other sensors. It ies at up to 9.5 kft and cruises at 40 mph. Its typical ight duration is 10 hours but it has
a 24-hour capability.

LEMV
The LEMV is a non-rigid airship of hybrid design. It was developed for deployment in Afghanistan in 2012. It can operate at 20
kft for up to 21 days an can produce up to 16 kW of electrical power and carry a 2,500 lb ISR payload. Schedule delays and
weight growth reduced the altitude to 16 kft and ight duration to 16 days by the time the rst ight was performed in August,
2012. The program was cancelled in February of 2013 and the vehicle was deated and sold back to its builder, Hybrid Air
Vehicles (HAV) in October, 2013.

HiSentinel
The HiSentinel program is a family of high altitude airships to provide persistent communications and ISR capability to the
DoD. The HiSentinel program was a tactical airship demonstration program for the DoD to demonstrate the various key
technologies for a stratospheric airship. The HiSentinel systems were comprised of the airship, ground support systems,
weather support system, and ight/payload command, control and communications ground station. Six high altitude airship
engineering ights have been conducted over the years with ve of those ights achieving greater than 65 kft altitudes. All key
stratospheric airship technologies were demonstrated during the development program.

HALE-D
The HALE-D is a high altitude conventional non-rigid airship demonstrator for the HAA, the larger High Altitude Airship.
Intended to operate at 60 kft for two to three weeks with a small demonstration payload, the rst ight occurred in July, 2011.
Unfortunately a problem occurred during ascent and the ight was terminated after rising to only 32 kft. The airship came
down in a heavily wooded area of southeastern Pennsylvania. During recovery operations, the hull caught re and was
destroyed. Funding for the program ended in 2011.

ISIS
The ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is Structure) Demonstration System Program is a conventional non-rigid airship that includes an
integrated Radar system. The airship is 511 feet in length and operates at an altitude of 65 kft for one year. Originally intended

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

17

for a rst ight beginning in late 2012, cost and technical challenges have caused the program to delay airframe development
and to refocus on radar risk reduction testing, which will complete in mid-2014.

Star Light 3
The U.S. Navys Naval Air Warfare Center awarded a Phase 1 and Phase 2 contract to begin development of a next generation
stratospheric airship with a radically new design. The vehicle, named StarLight, was proposed to deliver unprecedented
performance in operating altitude, ight duration and forward velocity. The uniquely designed vehicle would supposedly
operate at 85 kft above the earths surface powered solely by photovolatics. Current status appears to be inactive.

Science vs. Military Requirements for Airships


The modern development efforts toward advanced airships and drones in the US have been largely driven by defense
initiatives and requirements. Comparisons between drone technology and airship technology have included such attributes as
the visibility of the craft, its radar cross-section, and its thermal and acoustical signatures. These concerns are absent when
designing airships for science and therefore the designs may be better optimized for the tasks at hand and the costs may be
further reduced.
The advantages that airships hold for science in some cases are the very disadvantages that apply to military applications. As
an example, immobility. Being relatively slow-moving platform can be a liability for defense, but a very desirable attribute for
instance in astronomy critical in gaining highly accurate gyro-control to maintain telescope pointing. The relatively relaxed
propulsion constraints for science reduces one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the development process for the military.
Part of the military concern about the viability of airships includes their inability to be defended. So as to enhance the efcacy
of high altitude airships, modern design efforts have gone into making the airships harder to detect by reducing their acoustic
and thermal signatures and using an envelope material that will absorb radar frequency radiation. Since science applications
obviate these concerns, further design optimization can occur for airships used for science applications alone.
The trade-off between the use of satellites and airships to provide space-like observing environments is of concern to both the
science community and the military. Perhaps the most important consideration is cost. Historically, satellite observatories cost
between 0.1 and 3 billion USD, while airships of the full-scale ISIS are more in the order of 10-100 millions of USD. (We note
that stratospheric airship cost estimates are currently unreliable, since their development is so new.) The smaller-scale airships
can cost on order of a million dollars. Unlike satellites, airships do not typically require persistent and costly global-scale
control, tracking, and communication. They can operate more typically on a local scale. Finally, for most airships, the payload
of the experiment may be changed-out and the ship reused.

http://www.globalnearspace.com/press_release_SPSA.shtml

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Chapter 3:

The Stratospheric
Environment
Summary
The advantages of placing an airship at stratospheric heights, namely space-like observing conditions, unavoidably lead to
space-like challenges for the airship and the instrumentation on board. The environment more closely resembles outer space
than sea level: low temperatures, low air pressure, higher solar irradiance, and lower convective heat transfer all pose
challenges to the reliable operation of instruments. These challenges are not intractable, however: we know how to build
instruments that operate in space and in the near-space conditions of balloon-borne platforms.
Rather, the most signicant challenge posed by the stratospheric environment is to the airship platform itself. Harvesting the
solar energy needed to station-keep against the stratospheric winds can be difcult at some times of year and in some
geographic locations. However, the stratospheric wind environment can be quite benign at some latitudes and during the
summer months, and the "sprint and drift" approach to airship navigation can signicantly alleviate the challenges of airship
propulsion.
Propulsion is the dominant source of power consumption in a stratospheric airship, where the power needed to station-keep
scales as the cube of the wind velocity. As we show in this chapter, the winter winds at high latitudes are signicantly less
benign than the summer winds, though this seasonal difference is much more pronounced in the southern hemisphere. This
indicates that the power requirements for a stratospheric airship can be minimized by operating either in the summer
hemisphere, where conditions are extremely benign (perhaps moving back and forth between the hemispheres as the seasons
change), or in the tropics where winds are slightly stronger than in the summer hemisphere and in some cases more variable
but conditions are relatively constant throughout the year.
In this chapter we describe the stratospheric wind environment, thermal environment, and solar illumination that determines
the power available to an airship. Finally, we will discuss some of the challenges in powering the airship propulsion and
instruments.

Challenges of the Stratospheric Environment


The environment at the desired altitudes of operation for stratospheric airships (60-70 kft) more closely resembles outer space
than sea level conditions. The environment can pose operational problems for most off-the-shelf systems. All ight hardware
must be carefully selected and tested to ensure that it will function properly in a stratospheric environment (Table 3.1) (Smith,

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

19

1999), particularly when integrated with other heat generating equipment. Some of the issues that need to be considered
when developing equipment for stratospheric ight are:

The air is very cold, averaging -55 Celsius.

The air pressure is low, 3-5% of sea level pressure.

The air density is low, 15-20 times lower in density than sea level air density.

Convective heat transfer is reduced signicantly, so radiative heat transfer mechanisms are needed.

Solar irradiation can be 25 - 37% higher than at sea level.

UV radiation is more intense than at sea level.

Exposed surface temperatures can drop as low as 194 Kelvin (-79 Celsius) at night, due to radiation cooling.

Getting rid of waste heat generated by electronic systems is a signicant concern, and is driven more by radiation
than convective cooling.

Electrical arcing is more likely in a low density atmosphere, and single event upsets can be more common if the
electronics are not designed properly.

Table 3.1: Global Flight Environment


Atmospheric:
Tropics:

-90C @ ~ 50-60 kft altitude

Polar:

-45C @ ~ 30-35 kft altitude

Mid-Latitude:

-55C@ ~ 45-60 kft


-80C in summer
(seasonal & latitudinal uctuations)

Radiation:
Solar Constant (seasonal) : 1358 W/m2 (nominal)

1312 W/m2 (minimum)


1404 W/m2 (maximum)

Albedo :

0.1 (minimum)

0.9 (maximum) polar

Earth Flux:

90.7 W/m2 (minimum, Tropospheric cloud top temperatures of 200K)

594. W/m2 (maximum, Desert @ 320K planet temp.)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Figure 3.1: The stratospheric wind environment is dependent on


geographic location and time of year (Perry 2002).

Stratospheric Winds at 20 km (~65 kft)


The stratospheric wind environment is highly dependent on geographic location and time of year, as shown in Figure 3.1 and
Figure 3.2. It is dominated by the zonal wind component (East-West winds, u, Figure 3.3), which is characterized by a strong
cyclonic (westerly) circumpolar jet in the winter hemisphere (mean winds of 20-30 m/s at 65 kft) and weak (~5 m/s) easterly
winds in the summer hemisphere. The transition from easterly to westerly (or vice-versa) in the extratropics occurs over a
period of a few weeks during the equinoctial seasons (March-April-May and September-October-November).
The lower stratosphere (~65 kft) is optimal for stratospheric airship ight because the winds in this altitude range are
statistically the slowest. It should be noted that the wind speed magnitude and the altitude at which the minimum wind speed
occurs vary with geographic location and time of year. Figure 3.1 (Perry, 2002) illustrates the geographic and seasonal variation
of wind speed at a particular altitude (Jaska, 2005). Generally, the altitudes for minimum winds are from 6070 kft (50 to 40
millibars).
In the tropics, the zonal wind at 20 km alternates between easterly and westerly with a period of ~27 months; this is known as
the stratospheric quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO). The easterly phase of the QBO is stronger than the westerly phase, with
mean 20 km equatorial easterly winds of 15-20 m/s compared to ~5-10 m/s during the westerly phase. The meridional
component of the wind (North-South winds, v, Figure 3.4) is much weaker than the zonal component, with 65 kft mean values
<1 m/s at all latitudes throughout the year. Vertical velocities (=Dp/dt, where p is pressure) are on average less than 0.25
cm/sec at 65 kft.
Wave motions at a range of spatiotemporal scales from < 10 meters in < 1 hour to > 1000 kilometers in > 1 month play a
critical role in the stratosphere, and in fact drive the mean meridional overturning circulation (Brewer-Dobson circulation, e.g.
Haynes et al. 1991). These waves, which include gravity waves (whose restoring force is gravity), synoptic- and planetaryscale Rossby waves (whose restoring force is planetary vorticity), tides (gravity waves modied by rotation and compressibility),
and mixed Rossby-gravity waves, result in large deformations of the stratospheric ow and thus large deviations of u,v,w, and
other parameters such as temperature from their mean values.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Figure 3.2: Stratospheric winds in the antarctic are more severe than elsewhere on the
planet, particularly in the southern winter. (Jaska 2004).

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Zonal winds (u)


The zonal wind in the extratropics is characterized by a seasonal cycle, as well as a hemispheric asymmetry in the winter
circumpolar winds. The southern hemisphere westerlies are much stronger than those in the northern hemisphere because
there are fewer land masses in the southern hemisphere to generate waves, which disturb and exert a drag on the mean zonal
ow.
These differences are illustrated in Figure 3.3, which shows the variability of the zonal wind amplitude u from 3-hourly output of
the Modern Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) reanalysis system (Rienecker et al. 2011) for
2005, divided into 6 latitude bands. The reanalysis output is generated by the Goddard Earth Observing System Data
Assimilation System Version 5 (GEOS-5, Rienecker et al. 2008), which utilizes a wide variety of atmospheric observations to
constrain a high resolution atmospheric model.
In addition to the seasonal cycle in the mean wind, Figure 3.3 also shows a pronounced seasonal cycle in the variability of the
wind in the extratropics. Variability is much higher in the winter than in the summer, because Rossby waves, which make up a
large portion of the stratospheric wave spectrum, propagate only on westerly winds (Charney and Drazin, 1961). During the
summer, when the mean wind is easterly, Rossby waves evanesce above the tropopause and thus have little impact on the
ow at 20 km. Furthermore, the source strength for gravity waves, which can propagate on both easterly and westerly winds,
is weaker during summer. In the tropics, the zonal winds are weaker than in the extratropics and do not show a pronounced
seasonal cycle in either mean values or in variability. The QBO transitioned from westerly phase to easterly phase at 20 km
during 2005; this is reected in the mean wind values, particularly in the 0-30N latitude band.

Meridional winds (v)


While the mean meridional wind is < 1 m/s at all latitudes throughout the year, its variability is much larger than that of u in the
extratropics during winter; the 5th and 95th percentile values of v can exceed 40 m/s, rivaling the zonal wind speeds. This is
illustrated in Figure 3.4. If the airship is oriented east-west, presenting a large surface area to the meridional wind, these large
uctuations of v during winter are of particular concern. During summer (as well as in the tropics throughout the year), the
variability in v is much weaker, and wind speeds rarely reach 10 m/s. Variability of the vertical velocity, , is similar to that of
v, with values reaching as high as 20 cm/s (compared to a mean value of < 0.25 cm/s) during winter and much smaller
variability in the summer and in the tropics (max||<3 cm/s).
Long-term variability: In addition to analyzing the variability of the 3-hourly MERRA output, we also examined the interannual
variability of 20 years (1991-2010) of monthly mean wind speeds. In all cases, the variability of the three-hourly output
exceeds the interannual variability (IAV), though for u the two are comparable. The winter hemisphere short-term variability in v
is more than double the IAV, and for the short-term variability exceeds the IAV by a factor of 20. The large difference
between variability determined from 3-hourly output and that determined from monthly mean output demonstrates the critical
role that waves play in generating stratospheric variability.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Figure 3.3: The temporal and spatial variation in the zonal component (u) of the stratospheric winds, from
MERRA. The lines show mean (thick), 25th/75th percentiles, 5th/95th percentiles, min/max.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Figure 3.5: The temporal and spatial variation in the meridional component (v) of the stratospheric winds, from
MERRA. It is much weaker than the zonal component (u, Figure 3.3). The lines show mean (thick), 25th/75th
percentiles, 5th/95th percentiles, min/max.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Figure 3.5: An illustration of the heat loads on an airship in the stratosphere. Credit: SwRI/HiSentinel

Thermal Environment at 65 kft


The stratospheric airship is a thermal vehicle, just as is any free-oating balloon, as illustrated in Figure 3.5. As such, the key
to a successful stratospheric airship is managing the thermal balance of the vehicles lifting gas. Low altitude airship
technology generally cannot be used in long endurance stratospheric airships since it does not address the thermal balance
problem resulting from the near-space environment.
Thermal and structural models are used in the design process of the concepts. The thermal model is used to predict the
temperature extremes that a stratospheric airship might experience. The mechanical model is used to design the
stratospheric airship hull to ensure it is strong enough to contain the differential helium pressures, to maintain hull
pressurization, to ensure there is enough propulsion power to achieve the desired air speeds, to calculate the masses and
distribution of all airship components, and to ensure there is sufcient lift to carry the mass of everything on the stratospheric
airship to cruise altitude. The design process is an iterative process with information being exchanged between the thermal
model and the mechanical model. The stratospheric airship radiative properties and preliminary convection coefcients are
inputs to the thermal model.
The atmospheric temperature and its variability can be assessed using MERRA, as illustrated in Figure 3.6. The atmospheric
waves (Rossby waves, gravity waves, etc) that affect the stratospheric winds also affect the stratospheric temperatures. The
difference between the monthly maximum and minimum temperature in the winter extratropics can exceed 50 K. In summer,
the variability is very small at the poles and is typically ~10 K in midlatitudes (as well as in the tropics throughout the year).

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

26


Figure 3.6: The stratospheric atmospheric temperature spatial and temporal variation, from MERRA. The lines show mean
(thick), 25th/75th percentiles, 5th/95th percentiles, min/max.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

27

Solar Environment at 65 kft


Power to a stratospheric airship is supplied by the mounting of photovoltaic (PV) arrays within or on the surface of the airship.
As such, the solar availability is of crucial importance to an airship. Figure 3.7 shows that the solar availability for a mid-latitude
site (Washington DC) varies from ~9.5 hours in mid-winter to more than 14 hours in mid-summer, with a more extreme
variation closer to the poles.
A portion of the energy gathered by the solar arrays is stored in rechargeable batteries or regenerative fuel cells to fuel nighttime operation. Support circuitry is available to completely manage the charging and discharging. The battery control circuitry
must be designed to eliminate the possibility of the energy storage system going off line unexpectedly as well as controlling
charging rates, levels and power shedding.
Mounting of PV arrays on the hull surface introduces some inefciencies due to the curvature of the hull thereby increasing
overall system mass, requiring a larger airship. It also introduces large temperature variations due to the daytime heating of
the arrays that the hull material must be thermally isolated from so as to not cause hull structural failure.

Figure 3.7: The solar availability for a mid-latitude site, such as Washington DC, varies from ~9.5 hours in midwinter to over 14 hours in mid-summer. (Jaska 2004)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Airship Propulsion
Stratospheric airship power requirements include the power needed to supply the sensor payload, all support systems and in
particular the propulsion system. The propulsion system power will be by far the largest driver for power and is a function of
the wind speeds at the cruise altitude.
Vehicle propulsion power requirements are a function of velocity and are proportional to the air speed raised to the third power.
Therefore the power required to either cruise to a target location or the power required to station-keep over a target location is
given by the expression (Eq. 3.1):

(Eq. 3.1)

where:

air = air density

prop = propulsion efciency (motor, transmission, propeller)

Vol hull = hull volume

Cd = drag coefcient based on shape and Reynolds number

vel = velocity

Figure 3.8: Sprint and drift station-keeping navigation. Credit: SwRI/HiSentinel

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

29

Sprint and drift: A major factor affecting airship size is the mass associated with the power generation and energy storage
systems required for airship propulsion. The efciencies of the solar cells and the energy storage system are very important.
Propulsive energy mass minimization is one consideration when selecting the operational navigation modes of stationkeeping or the Sprint and Drift approach. Figure 3.8 shows how the stratospheric airship ight controller may implement
the Sprint and Drift approach for station keeping.
What does Sprint and Drift mean? Assuming that the average wind and average airship speeds are equal, the airship
sprints upwind of the station keeping point during the day at high speed, and during the night, drifts back over and then
downwind of the station keeping point at a slower nighttime speed. This technique can signicantly reduce the total mass for
the propulsion power system. For some airship designs, the Sprint then Drift technique reduced the propulsion power mass
by 33% below an airship of equivalent volume that could achieve the same speed at night as during the day.
How does the Sprint and Drift approach save weight? For an example airship design, it takes 9.1 grams of equipment
to produce 1 watt of power during the day. It takes 48.2 grams to produce 1 watt of power from the fuel cell system for a 14hour night. It is advantageous from a mass minimization standpoint to spend a little more energy during the day in order to
conserve power during the night. The calculation is not simple, but for these airship designs, the minimum mass is achieved
with a night-to-day speed ratio of 0.46, thus to achieve an average air speed of 15 m/s for a 10 hour day and a 14 hour night,
the day speed is 21.9 m/s and the night speed is 10.1 m/s.

Atmospheric Turbulence
Atmospheric turbulence can be described by the Fried parameter r0, which describes the size of telescope that can achieve
diffraction-limited seeing. At ground level it is typically 10 cm (an average site) to 20 cm (an excellent site). It is a measure of
the seeing of a site, which is the degradation of image quality due to the perturbation of wavefronts by a turbulent medium.
Scintillation Detection and Ranging (SCIDAR) measurements, e.g. Hoegemann et al 2004in Proc SPIEv. 5490, show that r0
can be >1.5 m at 65 kft. This means that telescopes as large as 1.5 m can achieve diffraction-limited seeing in the
stratosphere. This assumes that the airship-equivalent of dome seeing, i.e. the turbulence in the atmosphere produced by the
airship itself, can be mitigated.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

30

Chapter 4:

Case Studies for Science


Aboard Airships
This chapter highlights particular case studies which exploit some of the more unique features of airship
platforms. These cases are merely a subset of the wide range of science made possible on airships.

In Earth and Atmospheric Science


The near- and long-term applications of airships for science span a wide range of science questions. The ability of airships to
station-keep above a given spot on the Earth for continuous regional monitoring of Earth science processes (atmospheric
variations, landmass changes, coastal biology, etc.) may be the most compelling single application.
As detailed in recent International Climate Assessment reports (e.g. IPCC, 2007), changes to our Earth system are expected
to continue, driven in the future by periodic natural events (e.g., volcanoes, solar cycles) and human emissions resulting from
evolving technology, population distribution, land use, and international agreements. These changes will inuence global
climate and temperature, as well as the precipitation
that affects the availability of fresh water that we
drink, the build-up and transport of pollutants that
affect the quality of the air we breathe, and the health
of ecosystems that provide the food that we eat.
Study participants identied three Earth system
processes where breakthroughs in understanding
can be achieved using airships, namely:

Megacity emissions and air quality,


Tropical carbon cycling, and
Coastal ecosystems.

Figure 4.1: Localized particulate and carbon monoxide concentrations


associated with a major freeway, from Zhu et al, 2012.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

31

Megacity Emissions and Air Quality


Background
Twenty three cities in the world contain more than
10 million people each and are termed
megacities (Figure 4.3). These megacities, while
relatively small in spatial extent, are responsible for a
signicant fraction of the worlds emissions of ozone
and aerosol precursors and greenhouse gases.
Within these environments, the emitted ozone and
particulates have serious health impacts and are
responsible for many deaths each year. Health
impacts strongly depend on cumulative exposure to
pollution, where exposure times vary on scales of a
few hundred meters and depend on the temporal
characteristics of the emission sources (e.g. strengths
and directions, see Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.2: Megacities concept from Duren and Miller (2012) with
high- and low-altitude airships added to complement satellite,
aircraft, and ground-based observations.

As highlighted by Duren and Miller (2012), a focus on megacity emissions allows the characterization of a sizeable fraction of
anthropogenic global carbon and ozone-precursors within a vastly smaller observational footprint. The scientic challenge is
to quantify pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions and understand how the emissions, transport, and chemistry interact to
produce variations in the quality of air contained in the urban domes surrounding the megacities (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.3: Megacity locations, from Duren and Miller (2012)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

32

Requirements
In order to benet greenhouse gas monitoring and health impact assessments, the characterization of megacity urban domes
requires observations of ozone and aerosol precursors and greenhouse gases at high spatial resolution and with near surface
sensitivity for long durational periods over the full extent of the megacity. Remote sensing ultraviolet/visible/near-infrared
hyperspectral and multispectral spectrometers have sufcient spectral resolution to meet the chemical species observing
requirements. The typical specications for these instruments are 200 kg (mass), 150 W (power), and 0.2 m3 (volume). With
respect to the combined observational platform and instrument, the requirements are:

1)

>105 km2 FOV

2)

<10 meter spatial resolution

3)

> 2 day duration

4)

>Monthly repeat

Approach
Required measurements would be accomplished by positioning an airship above select megacities for extended periods. In
order to obtain the needed FOV and duration, the preferred platform would likely be a stratospheric one. However, trade-offs
between airship altitude and speed, duration and repeat could make other airship (and tethered aerostat) options viable.
The airship approach provides substantial cost and performance advantage over the GEO satellite solution offered by Duren
and Miller (2012). In particular, the GEO orbit can only enable horizontal resolutions of order 4 km, given reasonable telescope
sizes and detector performance at GEO.

Tropical Carbon Cycling


Introduction
As the largest reservoirs of above-ground carbon in the world (Figure 4.4), tropical forests play a substantial role in the global
carbon cycle. Recent studies estimate that nearly 70% of the terrestrial sink resides in tropical forests (Pan et al. 2011).
However, uncertainties in these estimates are large owing to the very small number and scale of observational samples and
the statistical bias inherent in the sampled data. Uncertainties in ux measurements are even larger and leave unclear whether
tropical forests are net carbon sources or sinks. Fortunately, new methods are emerging for quantifying carbon uptake and
respiration in forests such as lidar and radar based biomass change detection and spectrometer-based measurements of
solar-induced uorescence (as a proxy for gross primary production, GPP) and CO2 uxes (Figure 4.5). With new instrument
tools nearly in-hand, the major impediment to be addressed is achieving large enough sample areas with the requisite spatial
resolution and near-surface sensitivity.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

33

Figure 4.4: Benchmark map of tropical forest carbon stock, from Saatchi et al. (2011)

Figure 4.5: Chlorophyll uorescence maps, from Frankenberg et al (2011)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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Requirements
Characterization of the net ux of carbon within tropical forests requires relatively long-term, albeit periodic measurements of
forest growth, degradation and regrowth as well as atmospheric CO2 gradients across the forests. Visible and near-infrared
lidars and L-band and P-band radars are required for retrieving tree height information. Multispectral spectrometers are
required for inferring net carbon exchange rates from GPP and CO2 concentrations. On the one hand, a full set of instruments
would constitute a substantial payload, namely, 500 kg of mass, 1kW of power, and 0.2 m3 of volume (plus a 0.5 m diameter
antenna). On the other hand, a mission focused only on global primary production and CO2 concentrations would require
substantially less platform resources of order 200 kg mass, 150 watts power, and 0.2 m3 volume. With respect to the
combined observational platform and instrument, the requirements are:

1)

>106 km2 FOV

2)

<10 meter spatial resolution

3)

> week duration

4)

>Seasonal repeat

Approach
Required measurements would be accomplished by traversing an airship across the Amazon (or other tropical forests) for
multiple days to collect a large, statistically representative biomass sample. As with the megacity case, the needed FOV and
duration is best met with a stratospheric platform. However, the large resource requirements of the full instrument suite
represents a severe challenge for the airship development and suggests that other lower altitude airships and tethered
aerostat options be considered.

Coastal Ecosystems
Introduction
The areas of land and sea surrounding coastlines are
home to a vast array of plants, animals and nutrients that
provide a myriad of goods and services to human
societies (Figure 4.6). They are also home to an increasing
fraction of the worlds population, with over 40% of people
living within 150 km of a coastline. The adverse impacts
of human activities and climate change on the health of
coastal ecosystems are gaining increasing recognition and
scrutiny (Halpern, 2008). In particular, scientic attention is
focusing on alteration of runoff and coastline topography
as well as alteration/destruction of coastal habitats.
Particularly vulnerable habitats include salt marshes,
mangroves, and coral reefs. In order to unravel the complex

Figure 4.6: Coastal wetlands (Marc Simard)

interactions between the many ecosystem components, a persistent,

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

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multifaceted observational approach is needed for characterizing the coastal zone processes. A strong, rst step in this
direction would be to examine the relationships between ecosystem health, large-scale coastal ecosystem drivers, such as
river runoff ow and tidal activity, and changes in basic habitat structure (e.g. river and ocean topography and bathymetry).

Figure 4.7: Cumulative human impacts on various ocean ecosystems, from Halpern et al. (2008)

Requirements
Diagnosing relationships between ecosystem drivers, physical habitat changes and general ecosystem health requires
frequent coastline observations over a full tidal cycle. The required observations would include ocean currents, coastal water
levels (i.e. river and sea heights), river and ocean bathymetry, and ecosystem function/ocean color (as a proxy for health). A
full instrument suite consisting of a K-band radar (for current), visible lidar (for topography and bathymetry), and a multispectral
imaging spectrometer for ecosystem function would require payload capabilities similar to the tropical carbon case described
above, namely, 500 kg of mass, 2kW of power, and 0.2 m3 of volume (plus a 0.5 m diameter antenna). A threshold
requirement would be for measurements of ecosystem function/ocean color at select areas with substantial in situ
instrumentation (e.g. height gauges). Platform resource requirements would be substantially reduced for the threshold mission
to 100 kg mass, 1500 watts power, and 0.2 m3 volume. With respect to the combined observational platform and instrument,
the requirements are:

1)

>105 km2 FOV

2)

<10 meter spatial resolution

3)

> 2 day duration

4)

>monthly repeat

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

36

Approach
The optimal approach for this case would be to position a nearly stationary airship above the selected coastal area for days to
weeks at a time. As with the tropical carbon cycling case, the resource requirements for any of the coastal measurement
ideas represent a severe challenge for high altitude airship development. Consequently, options for alternative lower altitude
airships and tethered aerostats should be considered.

Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences


Space sciences have a long history of groundbreaking ballooning projects, and as described in Chapter 1, airships' unique
capabilities may be best suited as complementary to traditional high altitude balloons. Many astronomers, solar physicists and
planetary scientists desire to be above nearly all of the atmosphere, either to reduce atmospheric absorption of signals, or to
avoid turbulence that degrades imaging capabilities. While airships envisioned today do not achieve altitudes of 120 kft to
reach certain regimes of UV and X-ray wavelengths, in theory a tethered balloon could potentially achieve this altitude. Rather
stratospheric airships offer a complementary benet of extremely
long observation times at mid-latitudes (i.e., with night-time
observing in the UV, visible, and near infrared), without the risk of
data loss if a crash were to occur over an ocean. Additionally, the
signicant size of a full-scale airship allows for a compelling new
approach to interferometry with long baselines above most of the
atmospheric effects.
Atmospheric absorption of radiation particularly hampers
astronomical observations in the infrared through sub-millimeter
wavelength regimes. The absorbing species responsible are
among the most abundant molecular species in the Earth's
atmosphere, including: H2O, O3, CO2, N2O, CO, CH4, and O2.
Above 40-60 kft, where the tropopause begins, most water vapor
will condense out into liquid or ice form, and atmospheric
transmission dramatically increases. While water vapor is not the
only absorber, it is a dominant one, and observations conducted
above this altitude begin to see a clearer transmission window.
Figure 4.8: (left) shows the modeled atmospheric transmission
between 0.8 micrometers and 1 millimeter based on the ATRAN
(Atmospheric TRANsmission) software (Lord 1992) . Shown is
the transmission at 4 altitudes: the ground-based ALMA
Observatory at 16.6 kft, SOFIA at 41 kft, an airship at 65 kft and a
balloon (or airship) at 95 kft. The overhead ozone in each case is
3.8x1019 molecules per cm2 and the perceptible micrometers of
water vapor is 0.5, 7.3, 1.1, and 0.16 respectively. Note that
ground-based observatories are practically unable to observe
from 30 to 200 micrometers, and at 41 kft, from SOFIA
transmission coverage is broken apart by numerous narrow gaps.
Above 65 kft the transmission becomes near unity across these
bands, allowing for astronomical access to the far-infrared and
sub-millimeter spectral windows.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

37

Airship-based Sub-mm Interferometer for Imaging Black Hole Event Horizons


Introduction
Airships may be an ideal platform for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations at sub-mm wavelengths. The
major limiting factor for ground-based sub-mm VLBI observations is phase noise introduced by the atmosphere: it leads to
decoherence of the signal that fundamentally limits the sensitivity of the observations.
A solution to the problem of atmospheric decoherence is to get above the atmosphere. A eet of orbital sub-mm satellites
would achieve this, but faces signicant funding and technological challenges. A eet of stratospheric airships may be cheaper
and more exible than a satellite mission.
The principle scientic aim of this project is direct imaging of the event horizon around black holes. The event horizon of the
black hole at the center of M87, a nearby giant elliptical galaxy, has an angular size of about 20 as. The resolution of an
interferometer in arcseconds is given by 2.1x105 /D. Here D is the baseline distance. Very roughly, VLBI observations with
baseline lengths of 5000 km at a frequency of 500 GHz will resolve the event horizon. The baseline length between Hawaii and
the US East Coast, for reference, is approximately 8500 km. There is an existing project attempting the same measurement
using ground-based facilities called the Event Horizon Telescope. 4 It currently uses the SMA in Hawaii, CARMA, and a
telescope in Arizona, but will soon include ALMA. An airship pathnder or eet to follow up on the ground-based facilities
could provide better placement of antennas and less de-cohering atmosphere to look through at the higher frequencies (say
500 GHz) that will give better resolution. There are some signicant engineering challenges to doing VLBI at 500 GHz though,
most importantly having good reference clocks.

Requirements
A proper reckoning of the viability of this idea will require more careful analysis, but here are some basic requirements based
on interferometry rules-of-thumb:
Stability: The minimal specication on the stability of the platform is that the distance between any two antennas needs to be
stable to a fraction of a wavelength (~1/20th) during the acquisition of one data sample. If we sample the voltage waveform at
1 GHz, this requires that the distance vary by less than 30m in 1 ns (assuming a 500 GHz observing frequency). This
translates to keeping the baseline stable to within 30m in 1 ms. The station keeping requirements will be set by whatever
technical solution is chosen for measuring the absolute position of each antenna.
Storage/telemetry: If the data are acquired at a rate of 1 GHz, and assuming 4 bits per sample, the data rate which needs to
be stored/transmitted at each antenna is ~480 MB/s. This is the minimum data rate. It is possible that multiple frequency
channels will be digitized and transmitted.
Positional accuracy: If a source is bright enough, we don't need to know the absolute position of each antenna. As long as
the fringes can be detected in less time than the decoherence timescale, the effects of changing baselines can be modeled
and corrected for. For dimmer sources we need to know the absolute position of each antenna. The positional accuracy will
be similar to that of the stability: we need to know the position of each antenna to better than 1/20th of a wavelength.

4 http://www.eventhorizontelescope.org/

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

38

Large Scale Option


10 airships at baselines between 500 and 5000 km (can be conned to US airspace if necessary).
Each airship has a single ~4m class antenna on it (can be lightweight carbon ber/composite antenna).
Each antenna is equipped with a 500 GHz MMIC-based heterodyne receiver which digitizes the incoming waveform.
Digitize a 30 GHz bandwidth and integrate samples down to the stated rate of 1 GHz.
Wirelessly transmit the resulting data stream to storage hardware on the ground, or if the data rate is too high write directly
to disk on the airship.
The position of each airship is measured by triangulation from base stations on the ground using something like laser range
nders combined with GPS.

Figure 4.9: A schematic representation of VLBI imaging of black hole event horizons. A network of airships spread
across the US can have baselines up to 8500 km, providing an extremely high resolution (at 500 GHz) of 1
milliparsec of the environment around the supermassive black hole M87 - 60 times higher than the best imaging
resolution to date shown here (M87 image credit: NRAO). Stratospheric airships would be above most of the
distorting water vapor in the atmosphere, which is concentrated in the troposphere and below.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

39

Pathnder Mission
Before a mission like the one proposed in the previous section can even be contemplated we need to demonstrate that
interferometry from an airship is technically feasible. Here we outline a pathnder mission to demonstrate this.
Launch a single airship equipped with a ~3m class antenna and a ~300 GHz receiver.
The waveform will be digitized and wirelessly transmitted to a ground station to minimize the payload mass.
Simultaneous observations will be made of bright radio sources with the airship receiver and a receiver on a groundbased telescope such as the CARMA or the SMA.
We will correlate the data from the airship receiver and the ground-based antenna and attempt to detect fringes.
This mission will demonstrate whether an airship is stable enough for sub-mm interferometry and will allow us to test technical
solutions for monitoring the absolute position of the airship antenna.

Sub-mm/THz Interferometer for Protoplanetary Disk Science


Another area of sub-millimeter, or TeraHertz (THz), astrophysics in which airships may provide an ideal platform are
interferometric studies of the protoplanetary disks encircling young stars. While many molecular species can be studied from
ground-based aperture synthesis arrays such as ALMA, light hydrides, especially water, remain out of reach due to the low
atmospheric transmission from even dry mountaintop observatories. The delivery of water to young terrestrial planets is a key
step in the development of habitable worlds, and so measurements of the so called "snow line" in protoplanetary disks - that
distance at which water vapor begins to condense - and how it varies with time and the properties of the pre-main sequence
star are central to exoplanetary science.
Studies above the water vapor in the atmosphere are the obvious solution, and single telescopes that can observe the
universe at infrared through THz wavelengths such as Spitzer, Herschel and SOFIA have made important contributions to the
detections of water vapor emission lines from protoplanetary disks. Typical distances for the snow lines around Sun-like stars
are some 1-3 Astronomical Units (AU), or about 7-20 mas at the distances of the nearest star-forming clouds. The strongest
and most diagnostic water vapor rotational emission lines from disks occur between 30 and 300 microns, which would require
telescopes of nearly a kilometer in diameter to provide a direct image of water vapor on such scales. Fortunately, the ordered
Keplerian velocity eld in disks provides exacting radial information on the molecular emission observed, provided the line
shapes are accurately measured and the orientation of the disk is known (from scattered light or mm-wave observations of
dust and CO, for example). The challenge, then, is to provide a platform that can detect the faint water vapor emission from
the innermost regions of the disk at high spectroscopic resolution.
The coherent nature of even a single baseline THz interferometer provides just such a platform, and when placed at airship
altitudes could study water vapor and numerous additional species. Such an instrument cannot be placed on SOFIA, and
airships may provide a cost-effective alternative to multiple THz telescopes in space.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

40

Requirements
While a more detailed study will be required to determine the actual collecting area and detector sensitivity required, a few
requirements follow from basic interferometry:
Baselines/Stability: Here, the baseline need only be up to a few tens of meters to resolve out any extended emission from
the molecular cloud. Ideally the baseline should be stable to fractions of a wavelength over timescales of minutes to hours, but
if necessary metrology could be used to measure and correct for baseline uctuations in the electronics that feed the backend.
Receivers: Sensitivity will be critical, and so superconducting heterodyne receivers will likely be greatly favored over
semiconductor-based devices (such as MMICs). High efciency Stirling coolers would then be needed to provide the
necessary cryogenic conditions at the focal plane for a long duration mission.
Backend/Telemetry: A pair of high speed digitizers followed by an FPGA to provide real time averaging is all that would be
required for the correlator, and with sufcient pointing and baseline stability the data could be coherently averaged for minutes.
Thus, the data rates should be quite modest compared to the sub-mm Event Horizon telescope(s), even with hundreds of
thousands of spectral channels. The power requirements are fairly modest for such a system, which can be housed on a
single card.

Pathnder Mission
There is great synergy here with the Event Horizon pathnder concept. With a single ~3m class antenna and sub-aperture
illumination of two detectors, the single baseline interferometer concept could be fully tested (except for the independent
telescope mounts). Water masers can be chosen as bright beacons for such a mission, several are available in the 300-600
GHz region.

Large Scale Option


Here, the minimum requirements would be two 4-10m class antennas (they could be lightweight carbon ber/composite
structures) on a xed baseline. High THz transmission fabrics should be tested for airship environments to determine whether
the antennas can be placed inside the airship envelope, which would be optimal for stability. With three telescopes, the three
independent baselines provide for phase closure, and would be a signicant enhancement over a single baseline system (and
could be distributed linearly along the long axis of the airship).

Hubble-Competitive Imaging
Diffraction-limited imaging at optical wavelengths
At stratospheric heights the atmospheric turbulence is low enough that diffraction-limited imaging can be achieved with a large
aperture (~1.5 m) telescope. Such a telescope has a resolution of < 0.1 in the visible band, and the large aperture means
more sensitivity with which to probe the faint universe. Appropriate design of the telescope optics can give diffraction-limited
images over a wide eld-of-view, which is ideal for survey experiments.
The science case for space-like imaging from an airship is very broad: the majority of the time on the Hubble Space Telescope
is allocated to imaging, which demonstrates a high demand for space-like imaging performance in the broader astronomy
community. Examples of projects that benet greatly by using a 1-2 m class optical telescope in near-space conditions (i.e., on
an airship platform) include:

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

41

Seeking the rst galaxies, stars, and primordial structure during the era of re-ionization with high-redshifted emission
which is blocked by the atmosphere for ground-based observatories,

Imaging of the low surface-brightness sky, wide-eld surveying for outstanding problems in near-eld cosmology,
e.g. nding Milky Ways satellites,

Wide-eld imaging for dark sector cosmology, including the mapping of clusters, baryonic acoustic oscillations and
weak lensing.

An experiment that derives particular benet from large-scale, high resolution mapping of the sky is weak lensing of large-scale
structure and of galaxy clusters. Weak lensing requires a high image quality on sub-arcsecond scales in order to perform
accurate galaxy shape measurements. By surveying large areas we can derive weak lensing catalogs that can be used to map
the distribution of dark matter over large scales and in galaxy clusters with high delity. This will help us to understand what
dark matter is, how it is distributed, and how it has inuenced the evolution of our universe. Similarly, we will be able to
measure galaxy morphology for a vast number of galaxies and their morphological evolution.

Requirements
The greatest obstacle to achieving diffraction-limited imaging on an airborne platform is pointing stability. Fortunately, the
problem of pointing stability is shared by the balloon community, and projects such as STABLE (Sub-arcsecond Telescope
And BaLloon Experiment) at JPL will demonstrate technology that achieves a pointing stability of better than 0.1. It will also
be necessary to position the telescope on the airship in such a way that the imaging quality is not affected by the airship, i.e.
that the turbulence caused by heat radiating from the airship skin does not degrade the seeing.

Pathnder Mission
A pathnder mission would carry a 1 m diameter telescope observing in the visible band with a moderate eld of view. It will be
equipped with an imaging camera that can be used to map an area of the sky with high resolution and deep sensitivity. This
pathnder mission would demonstrate two key interconnected factors:

It is possible to perform adequate pointing of the telescope to achieve diffraction-limited imaging.


The observing conditions are indeed stable enough to achieve diffraction-limited imaging for a scientically useful
amount of time.

Large Scale Option


When the Hubble Space Telescopes hardware inevitably fails it will not be possible to repair it, and there will be no large
visible-wavelength space observatory accessible by the general community. The high demand for Hubble imaging time shows
that this will mark a tremendous loss for the eld.
With that in mind, the long-term goal is to have a permanent airship observatory hosting a 2-3 m-class telescope (or as large
as the airship payload capacity allows) that operates continuously with a broad suite of instruments. For full-sky coverage it will
need to be located on the Equator, or there will need to be an airship observatory in each hemisphere. This will be an open
facility on which the astronomy community can propose for time. The fact that it is hosted on an airship means that instrument
repairs and upgrades can be performed with relative ease compared to space.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

42

Chapter 5:

The Path Forward


Consensus Recommendations
The participants of this study were able to reach a consensus on three major areas (I) for science aboard stratospheric
airships, (II) for science aboard low-to-mid altitude airships, and (III) an unexpected splinter topic regarding stratospheric
tethered aerostats, recommended for immediate follow-on:

I.

A. Establish a roadmap toward >60 kft observatory platforms for Earth, atmospheric and space sciences. We
found these platforms to be highly desirable and well-motivated. To make progress, we envision a roadmap as follows:
i.

Demonstrate high-altitude airships as a viable platform solution to capability gaps via a prize/challenge.

ii.

Launch path-nder(s) for science including site survey and new stratospheric instrument technology.

iii.

Develop and launch high-altitude, stratospheric observatory(ies).

B. Build a consortium to educate the wider scientic community about the scientic potential of affordable
stratospheric platforms and to further communicate to industry the needs of scientists. To expand what has already
begun with this study, we recommend:
i.

Holding dedicated sessions at American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)


conferences where the scientic community presents its relatively exible needs/requirements (as compared to
the military) to the lighter-than-air industry.

ii.

Sponsor sessions at American Astronomical Society (AAS) and American Geophysical Union (AGU)
conferences on airship capabilities for scientists in the space and Earth science communities.

II.

A. Identify and develop existing airships as science platforms immediately to be leveraged for the wellmotivated Earth and Atmospheric science outlined in earlier chapters.
B. Consortium-build to move low-altitude airships to mid-altitudes for improved capability-gap solutions in
Earth and atmospheric science observations.

III.

Develop the rst successful stratospheric tethered aerostat platform to support many of the high-altitude airship
platform science goals at potentially an order-of-magnitude less cost (Figure 5.1).

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

43

Figure 5.1: An illustrated concept of a stratospheric tethered aerostat (anchored by sea/ship) with a scientic payload.
Mike Hughes (Eagre Interactive) / Keck Institute for Space Studies

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

44

I. A Roadmap to Affordable Airship Platforms in the Stratosphere


The preceding materials and cases in this report have demonstrated signicant interest in high-altitude airships as a science
platform from the academic community and possible industrial partners. After bringing together NASA, Universities and the
private sector (including both large defense contractors and smaller specialized rms) to discuss the capabilities and
requirements for airships as a science platform, our consensus is that airships, especially stratospheric/high-altitude airships,
open up an exciting new platform for both Earth and space science. Much of the needed technology has been developed via
DoD funding over the past decade. However, a persistent (~1 day) airship ight at stratospheric (> 65 kft) altitudes has not yet
been demonstrated since DoD funding for airships largely ceased when troop withdrawal from the Middle East became a
reality. Among the industrial participants (which included representatives from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aeros,
Southwest Research Institute, AeroVironment, and Near Space Corporation) there was unanimous consensus that challenge
with a substantial prize would spur the investment needed to demonstrate sustained stratospheric airship capabilities.
The Prize-driven Challenge: We recommend a million-dollar-class prize for the rst organization to y a powered airship that
remains stationary at 65 kft (20 km) for over 20 hours with a 20 kg science payload (20-20-20; alternatively this could be
pushed to 24-24-24 after further consideration in the challenge design phase). The design must be affordably scalable to
longer ights with more massive payloads in order to spur further investment by interested agencies and industries.

Motivations for Producing a Scalable Stratospheric Airship Via a Challenge Scenario


For Earth and Atmospheric Science
Introduced in Chapter 1 and exemplied in Chapter 4, there are currently many outstanding questions in Earth science which
require long duration observations from the stratosphere, beyond what is possible with balloons, aircraft, and satellites. These
include:

Intercontinental transport of pollution

Exchange of water vapor and ozone-related gases across the tropopause

Climate feedbacks on stratospheric dynamics

Evolution of springtime polar ozone loss

For Space Sciences


Similarly, the list of astronomical applications for an airship is limited only by the ingenuity and vision of the community at large,
from broad surveys in unexplored wavelength space to compelling new instrumental designs, including:

Hubble-competitive imaging of the low surface-brightness sky, wide-eld surveys for outstanding problems in neareld cosmology, nding Milky Ways satellites; dark sector cosmology with large weak lensing surveys.

Accessing spectral regions unseen by ALMA and beyond the reach of SOFIA, including the exploration and discovery
of the Terahertz sky.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

45

Seeking out primordial structure and re-ionization epoch star formation with extremely high-redshifted emission which
is blocked by the atmosphere for ground-based observatories.

Interferometric imaging of protoplanetary disks, the event horizons of supermassive black holes and other compact
objects in our galaxy as well as our galactic neighbors.

More exible technology development in space-like conditions without space-like difculty for new detector
technology, probing, e.g., the epoch of ination.

Commercial Interest
In addition to science applications, long duration stratospheric airships would have non-science applications, and various
companies have expressed interest in the commercial availability of airships with the capabilities that this challenge would
demonstrate. As part of our study we reached out to companies in telecommunications who have major holes in their signal
coverage for remote areas and emergency response, as well as the oil and gas industry, who are interested in airship
technology for alarm monitoring, asset tracking, eld communications and production automation. Additionally, transport
companies pay high prices for satellite coverage to aid in lling an incomplete monitoring network across more remote regions.
The regional coverage of a stratospheric airship would provide an affordable communications service without holes for tracking
cargo in even the most rural areas, which is currently unavailable or cost prohibitive. The industry needs are clear across many
sectors, including utilities companies, eld communications and locating services, as well as forestry and border control
services.

Defense Applications
While spending for the theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has subsided considerably, leaving the development of a new
generation of stratospheric airships on the brink of realization, the long-term need for these platforms for defense purposes is
not gone. The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Ofce is tasked with organizing time-critical response capability if
national space capabilities need augmentation or reconstitution. If the TRL of the airship technology was raised through nonmilitary applications, the ORS organizational structure is willing to invest in airship technology as a replacement capability for
communications and tracking in this emergency room scenario for space.

Broad and Diverse Interest in Demonstrated Stratospheric Airship Technology


Between the interest from defense operationally responsive systems, academic and national lab science, and representatives
from private industry, we have experienced a wide and open array of interest to contributing funds towards a challenge to
deliver a product of commercial and scientic use. These potential partners recognize the motivational power of a prize
competition spurring further development. We have also begun seeking out private donors and believe some combination of
corporate and private funding could provide a signicant portion of the prize purse or operational expenses for this challenge.
Clearly the public imagination is excited by the futuristic dream of high-altitude airships, providing the tranquil and sustainable
antidote to the traditional xed-wing aircraft that require many times the power/fuel for payload support. Pushing this
technology with the needs of science and space exploration, rather than for war, has clear appeal to the public, as well as the
private foundations which could provide matching funds for the stated goals.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

46

A Centennial Challenge Opportunity at NASA


In NASAs constrained budget environment there are few opportunities for space missions in astronomy and Earth science and
these have very long lead times. Traditionally, space data (and near space-like data) have also been acquired via NASAs
suborbital program, which includes sounding rockets and balloons. However, airships (powered, maneuverable, lighter-thanair vehicles) could offer signicant gains in observing time, sky and ground coverage, data downlink capability, and continuity
of observations over existing suborbital options at competitive prices. We seek to spur private industry (or non-prot
institutions, including FFRDCs and Universities) to demonstrate the capability for sustained airship ights for astronomy and
Earth science.
NASA Technology Roadmap. Succeeding in the 20-20-20 Airships Challenge will likely require technical progress in areas
that are called out in NASAs space technology roadmap. Some examples include:

TA12 : Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems and Manufacturing. Lightweight, strong, innovative materials and
manufacturing processes for those materials are needed. Likewise, progress in generating solar power is needed for
long duration airship ight and spaceight.

TA14: Thermal Management Systems. The diurnal cycle is a technological challenge for airships and technology
developed for thermal management in the near-vacuum of the stratosphere could be brought to bear on space
systems.

Likewise, a successful airship challenge would provide a platform on which testing and development of numerous space
technology systems would be enabled:

TA05 : Communication and Navigation Systems. Navigation systems, sensors, transmitters, and transponders will
need to be tested over long distances and through the atmosphere without the inexibility of sending them into
space and not being able to recover them. Likewise, better atmospheric models are needed to further rene the
proposed systems. Airships can gather atmospheric data both in-situ and via remote sensing.

TA08: Science Instruments, Observatories and Autonomous systems. Testing instruments, detectors, deployable
mirrors and other technology in a space-like environment would be enabled by an airship.

In coordination with the FAA, NASA would be a natural candidate to run a stratospheric airship challenge for these reasons:
1.

There is signicant, National Academy-endorsed Earth and space science that is made accessible and affordable by a
stratospheric Airship.

2.

There is clear commercial and DoD interest in developing a stratospheric airship, that would be spurred by a prize
challenge.

3.

Private industry has an interest in utilizing the resulting product and is willing to support a challenge nancially.

4.

A stratospheric airship challenge provides a venue for progress on some NASA Space Technology Goals and a path
toward a testing platform for multiple technologies in the future.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

47

What would a Challenge Competition look like?


Ongoing discussions with industry representatives, who have been part of the diverse participant list of our workshops and
study, have clearly reasoned why a prize at less than $1 million USD would not be enough for both new and established teams
to take on the risk of a challenge. However most industry representatives considered a prize between $1 and 2 million dollars
to be realistic for the design work, materials, labor, and trials needed to be successful. A minority of representatives believed
that a prize for over $2 million USD would be required; however that the prize could be less if the winners had explicit, sizeable
contracts waiting from industry stake-holders (e.g., large telecommunications or energy companies). All consultants agreed
that the prize would not need to exceed $5 million USD, but that it would likely spur at least 10 participants at the $1-2 million
USD level.
Technologically, tall poles have included the handling of the diurnal cycle (hence the 20 hour requirement), as well as the
sustained payload support at altitude (at least 20 hour duration with at least 20 kg). The 20 km level is set by the stratospheric
wind minimum which occurs at that altitude, and together with being above >95% of the atmosphere, suggests the ideal
height for sustained, long-term science and telecom platforms. No airship has maintained ight at this altitude for more than 7
hours in the few attempts that have previously occurred. The technological challenges that exist for airships in the stratosphere
are considerably different to traditional, low-altitude airship technology, making a stratospheric airship a completely different
vehicle to a low-altitude blimp. Industry developers of this technology have simply not had enough opportunities to see this
technology through on the one-shot contract model, and those who have been closest to the targeted goals have been
underfunded. Military support for previous attempts have been well-funded, but for only a handful of attempts which included
extremely narrow requirements on incredibly short timelines (that were doomed to fail and did). Allowing teams to have more
than two years of development and trial time for the much less stringent operational requirements will very likely lead to
success in 3-5 years, although there are a few teams which could potentially compete and win within two years of a challenge
launch.

Work Plan. Principal investigator(s) and project manager(s) would direct the work of the team over a 6 month period to dene
the rules and timeline for the competition, continue ongoing efforts to generate interest in the community of potential
competitors, formalize efforts to raise money for a challenge, reaching out to the wider astrophysics and Earth science
community to generate interest and excitement in both the challenge and the resulting airship platform.
Much of the challenge denition work is straightforward and will ow naturally out of efforts and relationships formed via this
study. However, two key aspects of the challenge must be resolved in this 6 month period. The rst are the rules dening
scalability. The ultimate goal is to create a platform that can achieve sustained ight for weeks or months at a time and can
carry a payload of hundreds or thousands of kilograms. The rules of such a challenge must be exible enough to allow
multiple innovative approaches, but specic enough to require that a winning entry has a path towards scalability in duration
and payload capacity.
The second key aspect of the challenge denition is to scope out the 20 kg payload, dene how this will be constructed and
what the interface between the payload and the vehicle will be. This could be a small science instrument capable of making
rudimentary in-situ science observations of stratospheric atmospheric conditions and in taking turbulence and wind shear
measurements during ascent and descent. Recovery of this instrument and the resulting data will be a condition of success in
the challenge. A full design for the payload must be identied, along with mechanical, electrical, and thermal interfaces to the
potential airship platforms delineated. This includes plans for construction of one or more science payloads to be used during
the competition. A related task will be to dene how the challenge will be monitored and judged. Since an externally provided
payload will be needed for a competitor to complete the challenge, procedures for interaction between the challenge

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

48

organizers and competitors must be dened. This will occur in conjunction with potential competitors with whom a dialog has
already begun.
Other rules and regulations to be dened during the 6 month period are:

Length of challenge (we envision 2-5 years).

Requirements on platform stability and loiter area (i.e. the radius the Airship is allowed to wander within).

An appropriate FAA sanctioned "no y zone" for airship tests and challenge attempts. One potential defense
contractor contestant already has such an area and has offered to open this up to other potential challenge
attempts.

Expertise of JPL's suborbital community, particularly its ballooning experts from the Earth science, planetary science and
astrophysics communities will continue to be sought in the further development of this challenge. A potentially relevant JPL
project being developed right now called STABLE (Sub-arcsecond Telescope And BalLoon Experiment), can provide local
expertise to help evaluate challenge participants.
A proposal along these lines has already been submitted to NASA by a sub-team (PI: Rhodes) of this study, for the further
development of the stratospheric airship challenge.

Open Questions for Specic Stratospheric Observatory Concepts Long-term


What will "an observatory" aboard an airship weigh?
This open question motivates the development of lightweight instrumentation without the extreme restrictions of nano-satellites
and/or rocket launch transport.

What will it cost?


If a sizable market across defense and communications industries can be spurred by a successful challenge competition
participation, then costs will be driven to realistic levels for a competitive platform in the science budgetary environment.

Should space, Earth, and atmospheric sciences all share the same platform?
A shared platform between vastly different observational modes for different science goals will be signicantly more
complicated, however specic harmonious requirements between Earth-ward and Space-ward science would be possible to
design on a concept-by-concept basis. Ultimately cost may drive the necessity for a multi-disciplinary platform, as well as the
specic funding body for a given airship observatory concept.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

49

Sustaining a Community Base for Continued Development


Given the success of this study to gather leaders across the relevant elds to examine the opportunity of science aboard
airships, it will be important moving forward to communicate the ndings of this study and grow the community that has been
seeded by this study. The workshops and meetings which took place at the Keck Institute for Space Studies over the study
period not only strengthened the bonds between members of NASA JPL, the Caltech campus, external institutions and
industry, but also strengthened interactions between traditionally separate scientic disciplines, which could see
unprecedented levels of collaboration aboard multi-disciplinary airship platforms. Nurturing this budding community will be
greatly aided by the building of a consortium which aims to further inform and identify airship science opportunities.
Recommendations include:

Holding dedicated sessions at AIAA conferences where the scientic community presents its relatively exible
needs/requirements (as compared to the military) to the lighter-than-air industry.

Sponsor AAS and AGU sessions on airship capabilities for scientists in the space and Earth science communities.

II. Utilization of Existing Low-to-Mid Altitude Airships


A new community of scientists interested in low-to-mid altitude airship platforms has already been seeded by this study. While
this is not a recommended area of Keck Institute for Space Studies technical development follow-on, given that these
technologies are already at an advanced stage, the study recognizes that current airship platforms are under-utilized given
their unique capabilities in Earth and atmospheric science. Because of their persistence, these airships ll a scale gap in
between "anecdotal" ground-based or aircraft measurements and global measurements from satellites.
Low-altitude (< 20 kft) piloted Airships have long been recognized as excellent platforms for Earth observations. For example,
the European Union-funded research project PEGASOS (Pan-European Gas AeroSOl Climate Interaction Study) ew an airship
for 20 weeks in 2012 across parts of Europe analyzing air chemistry. More recently, the British Broadcasting Corporations
CloudLab Airship ew in September and October of 2013 from Orlando, Florida to San Francisco, California investigating
aerosols and clouds.
For Earth and atmospheric science, our consensus is that the only measurements that require a high-altitude rather than
medium-altitude airship are those focused on the upper troposphere / lower stratosphere or on extreme weather (this is of
course not the case with astronomy and astrophysics). For some of the most compelling science cases (i.e., megacities,
ecosystems, and coastal ocean studies) high-altitude airships provide a "bigger picture" and longer timescales, but they also
allow less payload for doing multidisciplinary studies. The medium-altitude airships (20-40 kft) do not provide the same largescale picture (at least not without a ying pattern) and may require revisits for longer temporal coverage, however projected
capabilities enable large and exible instrument payloads.
Growing a consortium to more precisely identify and utilize existing airship platforms is recommended by this study and should
be expedited and supported across a variety of means, both public and private. Existing airships which can support the
unique needs for various airborne science programs include:

Expanding the NASA eet to include the US Navy Airship MZ-3

Northrop Grumman M1400 (with potential for operating at 20-40 kft)

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

50

III. Summary and Conclusions Regarding Stratospheric Tethered Aerostats


During the course of the workshop, it became clear to the assembled study team that the alternative technology of tethered
aerostats was a possible, but unproven, option for meeting many of the science objectives of interest to the team. The key
realization was that the very difcult challenge of power and propulsion for free ying airships could be avoided if the vehicle
were anchored to the ground via a long tether. Such an approach necessarily applies only to those applications that are
satised with a stationary platform.
A subset of the overall study team (Fesen, Goldsmith, Hall, Lachenmeier, Lord, Miller, Rhodes, and S. Smith) pursued the
tethered aerostat option after the opening workshop through teleconferences, literature searches, back of the envelope
calculations and ongoing discussions. It became clear that tethered aerostats have their own substantial technical challenges
centered on the related problems of initial deployment, tolerance to winds and weather, minimization of tether size and mass,
and relatively low payload to overall system mass ratios. These issues and others were subsequently discussed at a
supplementary one-day meeting hosted by KISS in mid-November (2013) that specically focused on the tethered aerostat
option. Three additional experts joined that meeting: Mike Smith from Raven Industries, Gil Baird from ILC Dover, and Sara
Smoot, a recent graduate of Stanford University who did a PhD thesis involving high altitude tethered vehicles (theoretical and
experimental).
The basic conclusion of the one-day supplementary meeting is that there is insufcient information to know if a stratospheric
tethered aerostat can be made to work for long durations or for a cost that is attractive to future users. Many paper studies
have been done over the years, but no ight tests have been attempted since some partially successful experiments by the
French in the early 1970s. A key reason for the 40 year lack of ight experiments is that the smallest possible aerostat must
still be rather large (~ 5000 m3) to lift itself and the tether to the desired 65+ kft oat altitude. Such a large system is expensive
to fabricate and test, forming a barrier to continued experimental development. All meeting participants were in agreement
that, however expensive, it is of vital importance to perform this kind of stratospheric ight experiment in order to properly
evaluate the feasibility of the stratospheric tethered aerostat concept.
Another noteworthy outcome of the supplementary one-day meeting is that there is not just one tethered concept but instead
a spectrum of possible variations. These include:

The conventional single stratospheric balloon tethered to the ground.

Multi-balloon architectures that use lower altitude balloons to carry some of the tether weight and thereby reduce the
size and mass of the stratospheric platform and potentially of the overall system.

Tethering the balloon(s) to a ship at sea both as an aid to initial deployment, where the ship can move with the winds
and help reduce the aerodynamic drag loads, and to provide mobility for the system to avoid bad weather or to
observe from a different location.

In contrast to the conventional deployment approach of having the tether always connected to the ground and the
aerostat, use the alternative of having the aerostat drop the tether to the ground once at altitude. This requires a
separate vehicle (ship, truck) to collect the tether once it reaches the ground and anchor it.

Tethered multi-balloon concepts that are not connected to the ground but are connected to each other. This concept
relies on drag modulation capability on each balloon and different winds at different altitudes to provide stationkeeping without the need for propulsion.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

51

Tethering a high-altitude, stratospheric airship or balloon to a lower altitude, tropospheric "tug" vehicle (Fesen and
Brown, in prep.) making use of the east/west wind shear between the stratosphere and upper troposphere to keep
the upper platform on station and carrying a science payload (see Figure 5.2).

Adding lift modulation (wings) to any of the above concepts to help carry tether weight via aerodynamic lift instead of
buoyancy.

Figure 5.2: Cartoon sketch of thebasic idea behind a stratospheric, station-keeping LTA science platform using
East--West wind shear between the stratosphere and troposphere. Listed values are only meant as representative
numbers. Station-keeping of the stratospheric science carrying airship is accomplished through active control of the
lower vehicle's drag force by varying it aerodynamic shape and hence its effective form drag coefcient to generate
an equal but opposite drag force to than experienced by the upper platform. Some control of both upper and lower
vehicles motion perpendicular to wind directions could be done on both vehicles. (Fesen and Brown, in prep.)

Tethered Aerostat vs. Airship Platform Capabilities


The Earth and atmospheric science component of our study concluded that the main drawback to a tethered platform is that
it would greatly limit the area over which you can observe (and prohibit the parameter space of phenomena-following), which is
a major advantage to the new capability space airships open up for Earth and atmospheric science. However since most of
the sky regions of interest would be visible from a well-selected site, the phenomena-following maneuverability of the platform
(beyond station keeping and weather avoidance) is not a key requirement for the overwhelming majority of space science
needs. Station-keeping with a tether as opposed to propulsion could be an order of magnitude less expensive platform for
most areas of space science and some areas of Earth and atmospheric science. The development of airships remains a
unique opportunity for new event and phenomena-following observations, assuming the success of a new stratospheric
tethered aerostat platform.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

52

Recommendations for Stratospheric Tether Development and Future Work Plan


The tethers sub-team of our study makes the following specic recommendations for future work on the stratospheric tethered
aerostat concept:

1)

Analysis, simulation and design trade work should be done to quantify the expected performance of most or all of
the different versions of the tethered aerostat concept list above. The important performance metrics are: system
mass, payload mass, operational altitude, wind tolerance, platform attitude stability and operational lifetime.

2)

Perform a risk analysis on the leading architecture options using the data from #1 above and other expert opinions
gathered from the engineering community.

3)

Plan and execute a prototyping and test plan focused on addressing the top risks identied in #2 above. Budget
constraints will dictate how many risks can be addressed, but it should be sufcient to answer the question of which
approaches, if any, can meet the technical and cost metrics required to be a valuable scientic observation platform
for the space and earth science communities. The test plan should include ying a tethered aerostat at the desired
operational altitude.

4)

A science advisory board should work to develop and rene the science applications to be addressed by the
tethered aerostat and generate performance specications that the overall tethered aerostat system must satisfy, in
coordination with the engineering development activity described in #1 to #3 above.

Final Remarks
Whether we eventually see full-scale stratospheric airships host observatory-class facilities, or more tailored experiments for
game-changing science (Recommendations I.A.ii and I.A.iii), we anticipate and aim to nurture the further development of this
promising platform (Rec I.B.i and I.B.ii). An industry- and market-spurring, prize-driven challenge will be an excellent place to
start (Rec I.A.i). As inspiration for the further development of their high-altitude counterparts, and more presently representing
an under-utilized platform requiring no signicant technical development for science, we highly recommend leveraging the
existing low-altitude airships for remarkably unique Earth and atmospheric science (Rec II.A and II.B). Finally, we recommend
for immediate follow-on and technical development, the detailed modeling, designing and building of the rst successful
stratospheric tethered aerostat platform for the use of compelling Earth, atmospheric, and space sciences (Rec III).

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

53

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55

Acknowledgements
Report Section

Primary Content Authors and Editors

Executive Summary

Robert Fesen, Sarah Miller

Chapter 1

Sarah Miller, Randall Friedl, Robert Fesen, Gregory Quetin, Jeffery Hall, Riley Duren

Chapter 2

Steve Lord, Dave Carlile, Steve Smith

Chapter 3

Oliver King, Jessica Neu, Steve Smith, Eliot Young

Chapter 4

Randall Friedl, Jessica Neu, Oliver King, Geoff Blake, Jeff Booth, Steve Lord, Riley Duren, Marc
Simard, Stan Sander, Jason Rhodes, Eliot Young

Chapter 5

Sarah Miller, Jason Rhodes, Jeffery Hall, Riley Duren, Jessica Neu, Robert Fesen, Brent Freeze

Draft comments by: Jessica Neu, Dave Carlile, Jason Rhodes, Lynne Hillenbrand, Steve Smith, Jeff Hall, Greg Quentin,
Steve Lord, Abigail Swann, Tim Lachenmeier, Mike Smith, and Paul Goldsmith
Meta-editing: Sarah Miller (and Oliver King on Chapter 3), Document formatting: Sarah Miller
Illustrations: (on p.2 and p.44) Mike Hughes and Chuck Carter from Eagre Interactive (Keck Institute for Space Studies)
While we acknowledge specic contributions to this report above, all study members listed on the title page participated in
invaluable ways to our brain-storming discussions, conclusions, and recommendations over the course of the study period. In
addition to the study members who contributed to the Short Course presentations (Robert Fesen, Jens Kauffmann, Steve
Lord, Randy Friedl, Geoff Blake, Paul Goldsmith, and Sarah Miller), we also thank Michael Werner for his presentation.
The members of this study would like to extend their gratitude to Michele Judd, Managing Director of the Keck Institute for
Space Studies, and her excellent team, for creating an optimal working environment during the workshops and meetings of
this study. Judd played a pivotal role in the creation of our new airship science community over the course of the study period.
We also thank the director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies, Tom Prince, as well as the Steering Committee for selecting
our proposal from the 2013 study program candidates. The Institute provided a unique opportunity to bring key science and
industry leaders together to make this comprehensive evaluation and report possible.
We thank the larger science community for their participation during the Short Course of this study, and their continued
interest and support in new airship and stratospheric tether platforms for science. We thank the public for their interest and
participation in the public component of this study.
We acknowledge NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology for their internal support of the
process and program of the Keck Institute for Space Studies.
Finally, we would like to thank the W. M. Keck Foundation for establishing and sustaining the Keck Institute for Space Studies.

Airships: A New Horizon for Science

56

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES


CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE

CBO
Recent
Development
Efforts for
Military Airships

NOVEMBER 2011

Pub. No. 4239

CBO
Recent Development Efforts for
Military Airships
November 2011

The Congress of the United States O Congressional Budget Office

Notes and Definitions


The cover shows a U.S. Navy MZ-3A manned airship landing at Lake Front Airport, New Orleans, Louisiana, to
provide support for the Deepwater Unified Command and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Photo by Mass Communication
Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Geraci.
Aerostat: A tethered, unmanned airship.
Airlift: The transportation of people, equipment, or other cargo by air.
Airship: An aircraft that obtains buoyant lift from a contained volume of helium or other gas that is less dense than the
surrounding air. Also referred to as a lighter-than-air vehicle.
Conventional Aircraft: An aircraft that does not rely on buoyant lift to achieve flight. In this document the term
includes fixed-wing aircraft, tilt-rotor aircraft, and helicopters.
Conventional Airship: An airship that uses only buoyant lift to achieve flight.
Envelope: The external structure of an airship within which the helium or other buoyant gas is located. There are three
categories of envelopes: rigid, semirigid and nonrigid. Rigid envelopes use an internal frame to keep their shape.
Semirigid envelopes use a keel along the bottom of the envelope to distribute weight. Nonrigid envelopes have no
frame and use only gas and envelope design to keep their shape.
Hybrid Airship: An airship that uses a combination of buoyant lift from helium, aerodynamic lift from the shape of the
envelope, and variable-direction thrust (more commonly called vectored thrust) to stay aloft.
Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR): Reconnaissance operations observe an area to collect
information. Surveillance is the systematic observation of a particular area. Intelligence is the product of surveillance
and reconnaissance once the information from those operations has been analyzed and evaluated.
Orbit: In this document, orbit refers to the region in the sky in which an aircraft operates while it is observing the
activities below. In military parlance, an aircraft orbit is often called a combat air patrol, or CAP.
Payload-duration: Payload-duration is the weight (payload) that could be carried to a location multiplied by the
amount of time it could remain there (duration).
CBO

Preface

Airshipsalso known as lighter-than-air vehicleshave been proposed as alternatives to some of the aircraft the
Department of Defense uses today for two types of missions: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and airlift.
The unique characteristics of airships offer some advantages and disadvantages for those missions relative to aircraft
currently in the fleet.
At the request of the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
examined the Department of Defenses plans and proposals for airships. In keeping with CBOs mandate to provide
objective, impartial analysis, this study makes no recommendations.
Alec Johnson, formerly of CBOs National Security Division, prepared the document, with assistance from David
Arthur, under the general supervision of David Mosher. The line drawings of airships were done by Bernard Kempinski.
Charles Whalen of CBO provided helpful comments on the report, as did Mark T. Lewellyn of the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory. The assistance of an external reviewer implies no responsibility for the final
product, which rests solely with CBO.
Jeanine Rees and John Skeen edited the document. Maureen Costantino and Jeanine Rees prepared the study for
publication, and Maureen Costantino designed the cover. Monte Ruffin printed the initial copies, and Linda Schimmel
coordinated the print distribution. This publication is available on CBOs Web site (www.cbo.gov).

Douglas W. Elmendorf
Director
November 2011

CBO

List of Exhibits
Exhibit

Page

1.

Illustrations of Airships

2.

Wind Speed and Location, Altitude, and Time of Year

3.

General Characteristics of Airships Under Consideration by DoD

Low-Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance


4.

Low-Altitude Airships for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

10

5.

Payload, Endurance, and Speed of Low-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft

11

6.

Payload-Duration of Low-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft

12

High-Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance


7.

High-Altitude Airships for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

14

8.

Payload, Endurance, and Speed of High-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft

15

9.

Payload-Duration of High-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft

16

10.

Proposed Airships for Airlift

18

11.

Approximate Performance Characteristics of Proposed Airships for Airlift

19

12.

Airlift Performance for an Illustrative Deployment to the Middle East

20

13.

Illustration of the Number of Aircraft Needed to Provide 1,000 Tons per Day Throughput Within a Theater of Operations

21

Airlift

CBO

Recent Development Efforts for


Military Airships
During the past decades operations in Afghanistan
and Iraq, the U.S. military has come to rely heavily
on the continuous or nearly continuous presence
overhead of both manned and unmanned aircraft
to support ground troops. Unmanned aircraft that
remain aloft in particular locations (or orbits)
have been primarily used to provide timely information about activities on the ground and to
attack ground targets on short notice. Most prominent among these aircraft are the Department of
Defenses (DoDs) fleets of unmanned Predators,
Reapers, and Global Hawks; however, satellites and
manned conventional aircraft, including fighters
and long-range bombers, have also contributed.
The demand for those so-called persistent or
loitering missions has led the Air Force to substantially enlarge its fleet of unmanned aircraft,
and the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to field
or plan to field similar aircraft to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and
light-attack capabilities of their own.1 Unmanned
aircraft are particularly attractive for such missions
because they can be designed to provide durations
beyond the physical endurance of human air crews
and because they do not put humans at risk during
operations in potentially hostile airspace.

In light of the demand for aircraft capable of


remaining aloft for long periods of time,
considerable interest in airships as alternatives to
conventional aircraft exists. Although unmanned
airships are unproven, they have the potential to
remain in the air for long periodsproviding
mission durations that are many times longer than
would be practical for conventional aircraft. Consequently, the military services are exploring a
variety of designs for unmanned airships capable of
carrying ISR sensors.
The technology needed to field airships for ISR
could also be applied to airships meant for airlift
that is, for the transportation of people, equipment, or other cargo. Whether airships designed
to carry cargo would be manned or unmanned
would depend on the specific missions they performed. Although the military services investment
in developing airships for airlift has been limited,
several private companies are exploring potential
designs or are in the process of building prototypes.
In this document, the Congressional Budget Office
(CBO) examines the potential capabilities of airships for ISR and airlift missions. In brief, CBO
finds that:
B

1. See Congressional Budget Office, Policy Options for


Unmanned Aircraft Systems (June 2011).

CBO

If the speed, payload, and endurance proposed


for unmanned airships can be achieved, the

resulting craft could serve effectively in the ISR


and airlift roles;
B

Airships performance characteristics would


provide some advantages and suffer from some
disadvantages relative to those of the conventional aircraft currently used for ISR and airlift
missions; and

Airships would present new operational challenges such as greater sensitivity to weather
conditions and the need to provide unique
types of maintenance and support.

Because the development of the technology needed


for modern military airships is at an early stage, in
most cases cost estimates would be highly speculative; therefore, CBO does not examine the costs of
airships here. Although CBO does compare the
capabilities of airships to those of other aircraft,
assessing cost-effectiveness would require analyzing
costs as various technologies mature.

Background
Airships were among the first aircraft to see useful
military service. German Navy airships were flying
maritime patrol missions as early as 1914, and the
first zeppelin bombing raids on Great Britain were
staged in early 1915. Beginning in 1917, the U.S.

INTRODUCTION

Navy operated a variety of airships for maritime


patrol and fleet reconnaissance. The best known of
those were the large rigid-framed airshipssuch as
the U.S.S. Shenandoah and the U.S.S. Akron
built in the 1920s and early 1930s. In commercial
service, airships were used for the first regularly
scheduled passenger flights across the Atlantic in
the early 1930s, several years before fixed-wing
aircraft.
Airships were attractive during the early days of
military aviation because, with buoyancy provided
by hydrogen or helium, the engines needed only
enough power to move the aircraft at relatively low
speed, and airframes needed only enough strength
to support their own weight and to withstand the
relatively mild stresses associated with low-speed
flight. Fixed-wing aircraft, in contrast, required
stronger airframe structures and more powerful
and reliable engines because their lift is derived
from pushing wings through the air at high speed.
Rapid improvements in airframe design, airframe
materials technology, and aircraft engines during
World War II largely overcame the shortcomings of
fixed-wing aircraft. Moreover, improvements in
antiaircraft weapons during and after the war led
military planners to conclude later that airships
would be too slow and too vulnerable to attack
from the ground, particularly when facing a technologically capable adversary such as the Soviet
Union. Therefore, interest in airships waned.
The end of the Cold War, however, ushered in an
era in which operations against less capable adversaries have been more common. In Iraq and
Afghanistan during the past decade, for example,
air defenses have been essentially nonexistent,

CBO

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

allowing aircraft with limited self-defense


featuresin particular, the fixed-wing MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraftto
operate effectively in nearly uninterrupted flights
over unsecured territory. The nature of the conflicts in those countries and elsewhere has placed
an emphasis on persistently remaining aloft to provide ISR and limited missile attacks against ground
targets. The Department of Defense is exploring
the use of airships for long-endurance missions
such as those.2 Although DoDs current focus is on
airships for ISR, there have been proposals for
equipping airships with weapons as well.
Using airships for airlift has also periodically stirred
interest in military circles. In particular, concern
arose during the 1990s that rapid deployments by
air, like those to the large airbases in Saudi Arabia
during the first Iraq war, would not be possible in a
future conflict if such airbases were not available.
Transport airships capable of landing in any suitably large open area, proponents argued, could
reduce the militarys dependence on overseas bases.
Although advocates of airships suggested designs
capable of carrying payloads many times larger
than those of the largest fixed-wing aircraft, work

2. Of course, circumstances will not always permit those


types of missions. In the 1991 Iraq war and in operations
over the former Yugoslavia later in the 1990s, for example,
it was possible to attack or otherwise suppress air defenses
to the point at which fighters and bombers could operate
in relative safety. However, the suppression of air defenses
in those conflicts was probably insufficient to allow aircraft such as Predators or airships to orbit continuously
overhead.

on such aircraft did not progress much past paper


designs or small-scale demonstration vehicles.
Modern airships and aerostats (tethered airships
usually limited to altitudes of about 1,000 feet)
derive some or all of their lift from the buoyancy of
helium gas contained within their external structure, or envelope. There are three categories of
envelope: rigid, semirigid and nonrigid. Rigid
envelopes use an internal frame to keep their shape;
early airships such as the German zeppelins had
rigid envelopes. Semirigid envelopes use a keel
along the bottom of the envelope to distribute
weight. Nonrigid airships have no frame and use
only gas and envelope design to keep their shape.
The blimps frequently present above large sporting
events are usually nonrigid airships. Unlike many
early airships, which had a significant risk of catching fire because they used a flammable gas in their
envelopes (hydrogen), modern airships almost
exclusively use helium gas, which cannot catch fire.
(But even helium-filled airships face the risk of
being lost to fire if other components such as fuel
burn.)
Conventional airships, whether rigid, semirigid, or
nonrigid, achieve flight from the buoyancy of
helium alone. Hybrid airships, a more recent
innovation, use a combination of buoyant lift from
helium, aerodynamic lift from the shape of the
envelope, and variable-direction thrust (more commonly called vectored thrust) to stay aloft. The
combination of three different forms of lift allows
hybrid airships to carry heavier loads (larger
payloads) for a given volume of helium and also
provides a greater ability to control upward forces

INTRODUCTION

on the aircraft than is the case with conventional


airships that rely on buoyancy alone.
Today, the Navy is using a conventional, nonrigid
airshipthe MZ-3Ato experiment with potential airship payloads and explore how airships
might be used in actual operations. The Army,
Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA) are working on designs
for other airships, with a primary focus on
unmanned craft for ISR. Other organizations
within DoDfor example, the Missile Defense
Agency and the Joint Improvised Explosive
Device Defeat Organizationhave made investments in airship technologies as well. Over the past
two years alone, DoD has funded more than
$500 million for projects related to lighter-than-air
platforms, and additional spending is planned for
the future.
Other government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration also have
explored or are exploring potential designs and uses
for airships, albeit at lower funding levels than
DoD. Additionally, several privately funded
development efforts are under way that could yield
airship designs suitable for adoption by DoD.

Intelligence, Surveillance and


Intelligence,(ISR)
Surveillance and
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance (ISR)
The ISR missions of the type common in Afghanistan and Iraq have been characterized by the desire
for nearly continuous aerial presence, the need for

CBO

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

only modest payloads to accommodate the


appropriate sensor packages, and nearly or totally
absent air defenses. Under such circumstances,
the performance characteristics of airships offer
some significant advantages but also have various
disadvantages when compared with those of the
fixed-wing aircraft and space satellites that the
Department of Defense currently uses to meet its
needs for aerial ISR.

Performance of Airships Relative to Other


Aircraft
Unmanned airships have the potential to perform
ISR tasks with greater efficiency than conventional
unmanned aircraft systems. Because unmanned
airships could remain aloft for much longer periods
than conventional aircraft, maintaining continuous
ISR orbits with a smaller number of aircraft might
be possible. Airships may also offer greater basing
flexibility than conventional aircraft because airships could operate without the need for a long
runway. However, airships would probably offer
less flexibility to operate in poor weather conditions. High winds can make airships difficult to
control, especially when near the ground, and the
increased fuel consumption that would be needed
to remain over one area in the face of high winds
could significantly reduce an airships time on
station.
Like other unmanned aircraft besides stealth ones,
ISR airships would probably be primarily used in
secure airspace. If, however, airships encountered
air defenses, their survival would depend on the
specific circumstances of the engagement. Relative

to a fixed-wing aircraft such as the RQ-4 Global


Hawk, airships operating at high altitude (around
60,000 feet or higher) could be more difficult to
detect by adversaries looking for acoustic, thermal,
or radar reflections because they could be designed
to be quiet and cool and, in some designs, have a
structure made of radar-absorbent materials or little rigid structure for radar to detect. They would
also be out of range for most surface-to-air missiles
or guns. In contrast, airships operating at low
altitudes would probably be easier to detect than
conventional aircraft at similar altitudes because of
their lower speed and much larger size. Once
detected, those airships might be easier to hit with
ground fire than smaller, faster conventional aircraft, but they might prove to better withstand
damage. For example, the low speed of airships
makes them less susceptible to the dynamic stresses
that can cause conventional aircraft to break up in
flight when damaged, and because the gas envelopes rely on just a slightly higher pressure than the
ambient atmosphere, helium leaks slowly out of
holes that are not too large.
Because airships sacrifice speed in exchange for
endurance relative to fixed-wing aircraft, they
might offer less flexibility to quickly shift the
location of ISR orbits in response to changing circumstances on the ground. Similarly, if air defense
threats materialized in a previously benign environment, airships would need more time to exit the
area and reach safe airspace. Slower speeds could
also reduce search rates for missions that need to
cover very large areas. (All else being equal, search
ratethe area covered in a given period of time

INTRODUCTION

that is theoretically defined as the product of the


aircrafts speed and the sensors detection range to
either side of the flight pathis lower for lower
speeds.) Such a limitation, however, would be less
significant for missions calling for close observation of smaller areas.

Performance of Airships Relative to


Satellites
Airships can employ much less sophisticated and
less costly sensors than satellites use. Because airships operate at a much lower altitude, they can
employ smaller, less sensitive antennas for detecting electronic emissions and smaller, less capable
optics for a given image resolution. Also, sensors
for use on airships would not need to operate for
their entire lives without maintenance or repair, as
satellite sensors must. Moreover, satellites are limited to the sensors that they are carrying when they
are launched, but the type of sensor carried by an
airship could be selected on a mission-by-mission
basis, and improved sensors could be used as they
became available.
Airships can be continuously located wherever
ISR is needed (subject to the constraints of
weather, air defenses, and otherwise restricted airspace), while satellite observations are limited to
when orbits pass overhead. Satellites, however, have
the advantage of a very large field of view because
of their great distance above the ground. Additionally, although satellites fly in predictable Earth
orbits that can be easy to track, they are very difficult to attack. Also, satellites are free of airspace
restrictions.

CBO

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Other Factors
Advances in airship technology have not been
tested in actual operations, and considerable risks
remain for modern airships relative to conventional
unmanned aircraft systems. Many of the technologies needed for critical systemspropulsion and
power, fabric for airship envelopes, flight control
systems, and sensors able to operate for weeks or
months without maintenanceare in the early
stages of development. Furthermore, the military
has little contemporary experience in airship operation, maintenance, and support. Concerns include
storage of the gas needed to fill airships; storage of
the vehicles themselves; maintenance of the vast
areas of fabric from which airships envelopes are
constructed; and safe ground maneuvering, especially in the presence of winds.
Cost is another crucial issue. Some proponents
have asserted that airships could cost less to purchase and operate than satellites or other aircraft.
Those advocates cite, for example, the significantly
lower fuel consumption of airships relative to
fixed-wing aircraft. The costs of airships remain
unknown, however, because technology is at an
early stage of development and the details of purchases, operation, maintenance, and support are
yet to be determined. For example, the cost of
obtaining large volumes of helium and the equipment needed to store and distribute it to combat
theaters around the world is unclear.3 Because of
such uncertainty, cost estimates would be highly
speculative. In this document, therefore, CBO
does not examine the costs of airships relative to
other types of aircraft and satellites.

Airlift

Airlift

Although most current interest in airships is in ISR


platforms, airships could also be developed to
move cargoequipment, supplies, or people
within or between combat theaters. Hybrid airships would probably be the preferred design for
airlift because they provide greater lift for a given
gas volume and they can be easier to handle while
near the ground, particularly during loading and
unloading, when the total vehicle weight (aircraft
plus cargo) changes substantially.
Airships would have several advantages over other
means of transportation. In particular, airships are
likely to rely on fixed ground facilities to a lesser
extent than conventional aircraft, which need airbases, and ships, which need seaports. Airships,
therefore, could deliver large payloads to locations
that lack such facilities. Moreover, if some proposed designs prove technologically feasible,
airships would be able to carry much larger payloads than fixed-wing aircraft and reach their
destination more quickly than ships. Additionally,
if airships prove to be as fuel efficient as their proponents assert, airships might be able to operate at
substantially lower cost than existing aircraft, an

3. Indeed, some reports indicate that DoD has already


encountered challenges meeting the helium storage and
distribution demands in Iraq and Afghanistan that have
resulted from the widespread use of tethered blimps to
provide security surveillance at fixed locations. The
deployment of much larger airships would dramatically
increase the demand for helium. Although those challenges can most likely be resolved, the cost and complexity
of doing so has not been determined.

INTRODUCTION

advantage that would grow if fuel prices increase.


(Fuel for transport aircraft represented nearly
40 percent of the Air Forces energy costs in fiscal
year 2009.) Savings from lower fuel consumption,
however, could be offset by costs that have not yet
been identified or quantified.
Proposals have been put forward for hybrid airships that could accommodate payloads of various
sizes. Airships carrying 20 tons (about the payload
of a C-130 intratheater airlift aircraft) could operate independently of runways and only slightly
more slowly than helicopters but with substantially
larger payloads. Airships carrying 50 tons (about
the average payload of a C-17 intertheater airlift
aircraft) or more could complement todays strategic airlift aircraft and sealift ships. Very large cargo
airships capable of carrying a few hundred tons
would offer greater payloads but lower speed than

CBO

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

conventional cargo aircraft provide and lesser payloads but greater speed than cargo ships provide.
The feasibility of constructing and operating such
enormous aircraftby some estimates, about
1,000 feet in length and 300 feet in width for a
500-ton capacity airshipremains in doubt,
however.
Other risks remain in using airships for airlift.
Airships would still have the disadvantages discussed above for ISR missions, such as greater
sensitivity to weather conditions. As with other
types of airships, those used for tactical airlift
(airlift within a theater of operations) would be
vulnerable to hostile fire if required to fly over
unsecured territory. Those airships would operate
at similar altitudes and not dramatically lower
speeds than helicopters, but they would be much
less maneuverable and thus less able to avoid

threats. Furthermore, airships would need to


demonstrate sufficient dependability in day-to-day
operations before they could be relied on to maintain continuous flows of cargo.
Whether or not airships would be worthwhile
additions to the militarys strategic force providing
airlift over intercontinental distances will also
depend in part on the progress of their technological development as well as their acquisition and
operation costs relative to those of conventional
aircraft. The future of airships in airlift will also
depend on whether there is a demand for increased
deliveries before ships can be expected to arrive and
whether there is a need to deliver cargo directly to
locations that cannot be easily supplied with existing transportation systems.

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 1.

Illustrations of Airships
High-Altitude ISR

ISIS (Technology demonstrator)

ISIS (Full scale; proposed)

HiSentinel
(Technology demonstrator)

HALE-D
(Technology demonstrator)
High Altitude
Shuttle System
Star Light

Low-Altitude ISR

MZ-3A

Blue Devil Block II

LEMV

Airlift
Project Pelican
(Technology Demonstrator)

SkyTug

LEMV-Heavy (Proposed)

Reference Vehicles

747-400

Goodyear
Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier

(Feet)
0

CBO

100

200

300

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Note: ISR = intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; ISIS = Integrated Sensor Is the Structure;
HALE-D = High-Altitude Long-Endurance Demonstrator; LEMV = Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle.

Airship programs that have been proposed or


that are being pursued today range in technical
maturity: Some are concepts on paper, others
are being developed to demonstrate technical
feasibility, and a few are based on wellestablished technologies that could be quickly
put to use in the field. In this document, the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzes
airships designed for intelligence, surveillance,
and reconnaissance (ISR) missions and for
airlift of cargo. They range in size from roughly
that of a Goodyear blimp to about the size of
an aircraft carrier. CBO has not analyzed
aerostatstethered, unmanned airships commonly used for observation.
The airships discussed in this study fall into
three operational regimes: high-altitude ISR,
low-altitude ISR, and airlift. In this exhibit, six
designs, including both subscale demonstration
models intended to test new technologies and
full-scale aircraft capable of conducting actual
operations, show aircraft proposed for operation at high altitudes. High-altitude operation
is preferred when large fields of view or long
viewing ranges are needed, for example, when
looking deep within a countrys border while
remaining outside its airspace. Four of those
high-altitude vehicles are conventional airships,
and twothe Star Light and the High Altitude
Shuttle Systemare payload-return airships.
(Upon completion of a mission, the payload
detaches from the gas envelope and returns to
base, and the envelope is not recovered.) Three
designs show aircraft that would operate at low
altitudes. Full-motion video sensors are commonly carried by the low- to medium-altitude
ISR aircraft flown today, and would probably
be used on airships operating at similar altitudes. Finally, three designs show aircraft
proposed for the transportation of cargo.

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 2.
Because airships are large, are relatively lightweight, and use small engines for thrust, they
would be affected by weather conditions more
than are the conventional aircraft currently
used by the military. In particular, airships
could be, at best, difficult to control or, at
worst, destroyed by high winds when near the
ground during launch and recovery. Also,
maintaining position in the face of strong
winds would increase fuel consumption and
thus reduce an airships time on station. Airships might not be able to maintain position at
all if winds were too strong.

Wind Speed and Location, Altitude, and Time of Year


Average Wind Speeds at 40,000 Feet Above Sea Level (Knots)
90 North

NOAA/ES2L Physical Science Division

50 North
30 North
Equator
30 South
60 South
90 South
60
East
30

120
East

40

180

50

60

Average Wind Speeds (Kabul, Afghanistan)

120
West

60
West

70

80

90

Seasonal Wind Speed (Baghdad, Iraq)

(Altitude in feet)

(Fraction of time wind exceeds 40 knots)

100,000

1.0

80,000

0.8

60,000

0.6

40,000

0.4

24,000 Feet
18,000 Feet

20,000

0.2

68,000 Feet

0
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

Jan.

Mar.

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

Average Speed (Knots)

Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Air Force.
Note: NOAA = National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; ESRL = Earth System Research Laboratory.

CBO

Airships difficulties in high winds generally


constrain their operations to below 20,000 feet
and above 60,000 feet because prevailing wind
speeds tend to be greatest between those altitudes. High winds at intermediate altitudes are
especially prevalent over the Earths middle
latitudes, which include areas of particular
interest to todays military planners. Airships
operating at high altitudes would have to pass
through intermediate altitudes and, although
not necessarily a hazard to structural integrity,
winds could be strong enough to blow an airship off course. Consequently, careful planning
would be needed to route a high-altitude airship to its orbit location and back to its base.
Average wind speed calculations, however,
obscure the fact that winds can vary substantially at a given place depending on the time of
year. For example, the probability of encountering winds in excess of 40 knots over
Baghdad is considerably higher from November to May than it is at other times of the year.
Such variations mean that maintaining control
of airships over a given location could be very
difficult or even impossible for long periods of
time.

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 3.

General Characteristics of Airships Under Consideration by DoD


Mission

Operating
Altitude

Low Altitude

Airship
Type

Altitude
(Feet)

Endurance
or Range

Status of
Technology

Conventional

Up to about
20,000

100 to 300
hours

One system
currently
operating;
others under
construction

Hybrid

Up to about
20,000

500 hours

Technology
demonstrations
ongoing

Uses static lift from


helium, aerodynamic lift from
the shape of the
envelope, and
vectored thrust to
stay aloft

Conventional

65,000 to
75,000

Greater than
400 hours

Technology
demonstrations
ongoing

Very large envelope


volume to sustain
lift

PayloadReturn

65,000 to
75,000

100 to 300
hours

Technology
demonstrations
ongoing

Payload is
detachable and
returns to point of
origin; airship is
single-use

Hybrid

9,000 to
12,000

Hundreds to
thousands of
miles,
depending
on design

Technology
demonstrations
ongoing

Uses static lift from


helium, aerodynamic lift from
the shape of the
envelope, and
vectored thrust to
stay aloft

ISR

High Altitude

Airlift

Low Altitude

Source: Congressional Budget Office.


Note: DoD = Department of Defense; ISR = intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

CBO

Characteristics
Relatively mature
technology

Commercially produced military airships are


at various stages of development, with a number of companies across Europe, Asia, and
North America involved in their design and
manufacture. Analysis in this document is limited to airships designed for ISR that were
recently funded by the Department of Defense
(DoD) and to selected proposed vehicles for
airlift.
As a result of Earths atmospheric conditions,
ISR missions for airships are typically classified
as either low-altitude or high-altitudethat is,
operating at less than 20,000 feet and at more
than 60,000 feet, respectively. Altitudes
between 20,000 and 60,000 feet are less suitable for airship operations because of the
stronger winds that tend to be prevalent at
those altitudes. If the airships being designed
for ISR missions prove to be feasible, they
would be able to remain aloft longer than conventional aircraft, with proposed endurance of
more than 100 hours. Airlift missions would
be undertaken only at low altitudes.

Low-Altitude Intelligence,
Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

Low-Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and


Reconnaissance

CBO

LOW-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE, AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 4.

Low-Altitude Airships for Intelligence, Surveillance, and


Reconnaissance
Date for
First Flight
Late
2011

Goal
3 deployable
systems

Type
Hybrid

Status
Under
construction

Air Force

Late
2011

1 deployable
system

Conventional

Under
construction

Navy

2006

1 operational
system

Conventional

Currently
operating

Platform
LEMV

Sponsor
Army

BD2

MZ-3A

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Note: LEMV = Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle; BD2 = Blue Devil Block II.

CBO

DoD is currently funding several efforts to


field airships that would conduct ISR missions
at low altitudes. The most prominent of those
are the Navys MZ-3A, the Air Forces Blue
Devil Block II (BD2), and the Armys LongEndurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle
(LEMV). Conducting ISR missions from lower
altitudes has the advantage of needing a smaller
volume of buoyant gas to carry a given payload
weight. In addition, lighter and less sophisticated sensors are usually sufficient at lower
altitudes for a given level of performance
because those sensors are closer to the objects
and activities they are attempting to observe.
Low-altitude operations, however, have the
disadvantage of a smaller field of view than is
possible from higher altitudes, and low-altitude
aircraft are easier for an adversary to detect and
attack.
The Navys MZ-3A, a nonrigid conventional
airship that entered service in 2006, is the only
currently operational airship. The Navy has no
announced plans to deploy the MZ-3A overseas, but it was used to help monitor the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico, and today it is being used as an experimental platform to test different sensors and to
determine how airships could be used in actual
operations. In its current configuration, the
MZ-3A is the only ISR airship considered here
that must carry a crew. The Air Forces nonrigid conventional BD2 is about twice the
length and has eight times the gas volume of
the MZ-3A. The Air Forces near-term goals
for the BD2 are to achieve a first flight in late
2011 and to deploy the aircraft to support
operations overseas in 2012. The Armys
LEMV, a semirigid hybrid design, will be similar in volume to the BD2 but shorter and wider
to create an airfoil-shaped envelope. The firstflight and deployment goals for the LEMV are
similar to those for the BD2.

10

LOW-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE, AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 5.
The Air Force and the Army have both entered
into contracts to purchase low-altitude ISR
airships for eventual use in Afghanistan. Two
airships being built for this purpose are the
Air Forces BD2 and the Armys LEMV. The
BD2 is a nonrigid conventional airship; the
LEMV is a semirigid hybrid airship.

Payload, Endurance, and Speed of Low-Altitude Airships and


Fixed-Wing Aircraft
(Endurance, days)
25

Payload (Pounds)

The BD2 is designed to stay aloft onsite at


20,000 feet with a 2,500-pound payload for
five days. Its manufacturer, Mav6, is scheduled
to deliver one BD2 to Afghanistan in 2012.
The LEMV is designed to remain onsite at
20,000 feet with a 2,500-pound payload for
21 days. The first of three LEMVs is expected
to be delivered in time for deployment to
Afghanistan by early 2012.

2,500
LEMV
20

500

15

The planned endurance of those two airships is


substantially greater than that of operational
fixed-wing unmanned aircraft such as the
RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1
Predator, all of which can remain aloft for a
day and a half or less. The Orion, a fixed-wing
concept demonstrator, would approach the
five-day endurance of the BD2 airship.

10

BD2

Orion

MQ-1 Grey Eagle


Predator

50

100

150

RQ-4 Global Hawk

MQ-9 Reaper

200

250

300

350

Speed (Knots)

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Notes: Solid circles denote airships, hatched circles denote fixed-wing aircraft. Circle area is proportional to
payload.
Performance characteristics are for typical mission profiles.

CBO

LEMV = Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle; BD2 = Blue Devil Block II.

400

The cruise speeds of the fixed-wing aircraft are


greater than those of the airships, particularly
for the Global Hawk and the Reaper, which
can both fly in excess of 200 knots. That speed
gives them the ability to quickly shift to a new
orbit location in response to changes in the situation on the ground.
Because many of the technologies needed to
produce a modern airship are in early stages of
development, the costs per airship in comparison to fixed-wing aircraft are highly uncertain
and are not addressed in this report.

11

LOW-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE, AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 6.

Payload-Duration of Low-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft


(Payload-duration, pound-hours)
10,000,000

LEMV (Objective)

1,000,000

BD2 (Objective)
100,000

A summary measure of ISR capability,


payload-duration is the weight (payload) that
could be carried to a location multiplied by the
amount of time it could be kept there (duration). Payload weight serves as a simplified
measure of the types and quality of sensors that
an airship could carry. CBO estimated the
payload-duration for individual aircraft and
airships as a function of the distance between
where the vehicle is based and where its orbit is
located.

Orion (Objective)
10,000

MQ-9 Reaper
Grey Eagle
MQ-1 Predator

1,000

100
0

250

500

750

1,000

1,250

1,500

1,750

2,000

Combat Radius (Nautical miles)

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Notes: The vertical axis uses a logarithmic scale.
Solid lines denote airships; dashed lines denote fixed-wing aircraft.
LEMV = Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle; BD2 = Blue Devil Block II.

If the BD2 and LEMV meet planned objectives, they will provide substantially greater
payload-duration than do the three Predatorclass unmanned aircraft in use today: the Air
Forces Predator and Reaper and the Armys
Grey Eagle. For example, at a 500-nautical
mile combat radius, the Air Forces BD2 would
have a payload-duration about 60 times
greater than the Predators and more than
10 times greater than the Reapers, and the
Armys LEMV would have a payload-duration
about 80 times that of the Grey Eagle. Furthermore, at combat radii greater than
500 nautical miles, the payload-duration of
the Predator, Reaper, and Grey Eagle falls off
more rapidly than would the payload-duration
of the airships because transit time consumes
most of the flight time available to the
Predator-class aircraft.
The objective performance for Orion does not
show the same decrease in payload-duration as
the other conventional aircraft because the
endurance it is being designed to achieve is
much greater than those aircrafts. (The decrease
occurs beyond the scale of the figure.) The
Orion is, however, still in development.

CBO

12

High-Altitude Intelligence,
Surveillance, and Reconnaissance
High-Altitude Intelligence,
Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

CBO

HIGH-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE, AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 7.

High-Altitude Airships for Intelligence, Surveillance, and


Reconnaissance
Platform

Sponsor

Date for
First Flight

Goal

Type

Status

Traditional Designs
HALE-D

Army/ASMDC July 2011

Scaled technology Conventional Prototype


demonstrator
flown
suffered
failure

HiSentinel

Army/ASMDC November
2010

Scaled technology Conventional Prototype


demonstrator
flown
suffered
failure

ISIS
DARPA
Demonstrator

2013

Scaled technology Conventional Under


demonstrator
construction

Designs with Detachable Return Vehicles


Star Light

Navy

Undetermined Technology
demonstrator

Conventional Under
with return construction
payload

High Altitude
Shuttle
System

Army

2009

Conventional Prototype
with return flown
payload

Technology
demonstrator

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Note: HALE-D = High-Altitude Long-Endurance Demonstrator; ASMDC = Army Space and Missile Defense
Command; ISIS = Integrated Sensor Is the Structure; DARPA = Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency.

CBO

High-altitude ISR vehicles are at an earlier


stage of development than low-altitude systems. Most current concepts for high-altitude
airships are of conventional design, although
there have also been proposals for hybrids.
Design challenges for high-altitude airships
include manufacturing fabrics that are light,
strong enough for very large envelopes, and
durable enough to survive in the upper
atmosphere. Operational challenges include
navigating through altitudes where winds can
be greater than the speed of the airship itself.
Once at altitude, however, the aircraft would
have the advantage of a large field of view and
could be threatened only by air defense systems
capable of reaching that high.
The Armys High Altitude Airship (HAA) program includes the HiSentinel demonstration
aircraft and the High-Altitude Long-Endurance Demonstrator (HALE-D) aircraft. The
Army is also working with the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
on a subscale demonstrator of the Integrated
Sensor Is the Structure (ISIS) airship, which
would integrate a radar antenna into the structure of the airship. The Star Light and the
High Altitude Shuttle System payload-return
airships are also technology demonstrators. If
the demonstrators are successful, a subsequent
generation of vehicles with greater payload
capacities and endurance could be developed.
Both the HiSentinel and HALE-D programs,
however, have suffered recent setbacks. In
November 2010, the HiSentinel had a propulsion failure and landed 8 hours into a planned
24-hour mission. In July 2011, HALE-D had
a technical failure and was forced to land 3
hours into a planned 14-day mission. During
recovery operations, its envelope and solar cells
were destroyed, and its payload was damaged
by a fire.

14

HIGH-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE, AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 8.
The Armys HAA program, within which the
HiSentinel and HALE-D are subscale demonstration aircraft, has the long-term objective
of building an airship capable of carrying a
2,000-pound payload and generating 15 kilowatts of power (to run the payload and aircraft
systems) at 65,000 feet for more than 30 days.
The HiSentinel has those speed and endurance
capabilities but can carry a much smaller payload80 lbs. The HALE-D has an even
smaller payload and half the endurance of the
HiSentinel. The goal of HiSentinel and
HALE-D, however, is to test the technologies
needed for long endurance at high altitude,
not to demonstrate the capability to carry a
large payload.

Payload, Endurance, and Speed of High-Altitude Airships and


Fixed-Wing Aircraft
(Endurance, days)
35

Payload (Pounds)

Long-Term
Goal of HAA Program
HAA-Objective

3,000

30

HiSentinel

Hi Sentinel

1,000

25

20
HALE-D
15

In comparison with unmanned fixed-wing aircraft, such as the Global Hawk or Reaper, an
airship meeting the long-term goals of the
HAA program would have a similar payload
and substantially longer endurance but considerably slower cruise speed.

10

RQ-4
Global Hawk

MQ-9
Reaper
0

50

100

150

200

250

300

350

Speed (Knots)

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Notes: Solid circles denote airships; hatched circles denote fixed-wing aircraft. Circle area is proportional to
payload.
Performance characteristics are for typical mission profiles.
HAA = High Altitude Airship; HALE-D = High-Altitude Long-Endurance Demonstrator.

CBO

400

15

HIGH-ALTITUDE INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE AND RECONNAISSANCE

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 9.

Payload-Duration of High-Altitude Airships and Fixed-Wing Aircraft


(Payload-duration, pound hours)
10,000,000

Long-Term Goal
of HAA Program

1,000,000

100,000

RQ-4 Global Hawk


HiSentinel

10,000

HALE-D
MQ-9 Reaper

1,000
0

250

500

750

1,000

1,250

1,500

1,750

2,000

Combat Radius (Nautical miles)

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Notes: The vertical axis uses a logarithmic scale.
Solid lines denote airships; dashed lines denote fixed-wing aircraft.
HAA = High Altitude Airship; HALE-D = High-Altitude Long-Endurance Demonstrator.

CBO

The fixed-wing Global Hawk is the most


prominent high-altitude unmanned ISR aircraft in use today, and it provides a useful
comparison point for proposed airship designs.
An airship meeting the long-term performance
goals of the Armys HAA program would have
a payload-duration significantly greater than
the Global Hawks and the Reapers as well as
the ability to carry sensors large enough to be
useful from over 60,000 feet. To reach such
altitudes, however, an operational airship
would need to be much larger than the HiSentinel and HALE-D demonstrators. (See, for
example, the relative sizes of the ISIS and the
ISIS demonstrator in Exhibit 1.)
Designs for unmanned aircraft with a payloadduration even greater than the long-term
objective for the HAA program are also being
explored. Two programs at DARPAthe ISIS
airship and the Vulture, a fixed-wing aircraft
have the goal of developing aircraft that could
remain continuously aloft for five years. A
vehicle with that endurance and a payload of
1,000 pounds (the reported goal for a Vulture
demonstration aircraft) would have a payloadduration at least 30 times larger than even the
HAA programs objective.

16

Airlift
Airlift

CBO

AIRLIFT

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 10.

Proposed Airships for Airlift


Platform
Project
Pelican

Sponsor
DoD RRTO

LEMVHeavy

Privately
funded

SkyTug

Privately
funded

Date for
First Flight
20122013

Goal
Scaled
technology
demonstrator

Type
Hybrid

Status
Under
construction

Undetermined Proposed
operational
system

Hybrid

Designs
proposed

2012

Hybrid

Under
construction

Full-scale
prototype

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Note: DoD = Department of Defense; RRTO = Rapid Reaction Technology Office; LEMV = Long-Endurance
Multi-Intelligence Vehicle.

CBO

At least three cargo airship designs that could


be fielded to provide airlift capability within
the next few years are in development or have
been proposed. The Project Pelican is a proposed hybrid airship that would feature a rigid
hull and use variable-buoyancy technology to
assist with controlling lift. The LEMV-Heavy
would be based on the LEMV that is being
developed for ISR missions. The SkyTug is a
hybrid airship that would be based on the
P-791 technology demonstrator that first flew
in January 2006.
CBO did not examine in detail proposals for
other, much larger cargo airships. For example,
from 2003 to 2006, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency pursued a program
called the Hybrid Ultra-Large Aircraft
(HULA), or Walrus, with the goal of building
an airship able to carry 500 to 1,000 tons up
to 12,000 miles in less than seven days. If such
a large aircraft is ever built, it will most likely
be a larger version of a smaller hybrid airship
such as the three described above. For an
analysis of how very large cargo airships
might perform relative to sealift ships and
conventional strategic airlift aircraft, see Congressional Budget Office, Options for Strategic
Military Transportation Systems (September
2005).

18

AIRLIFT

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 11.

Approximate Performance Characteristics of Proposed


Airships for Airlift
LEMV-Heavy
365 Feet

SkyTug
300 Feet

Project Pelican
(Full-scale version)
435 Feet

9,000 Feet

10,000 Feet

10,000 Feet

Average Cruise Speed

80 Knots

80-100 Knots

90 Knots

Maximum Payload

50 Tons

20-30 Tons

60 Tons

1,200 Miles

1,500 Miles

3,100 Miles

Length
Flight Altitude

Range

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data provided by manufacturers.


Note: LEMV = Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle.

CBO

The LEMV-Heavy, the SkyTug, and the Project Pelican airships would carry payloads from
about 20 tons to 60 tons over ranges of about
1,000 to 3,000 nautical miles. Such performance roughly spans the range and payload
performance offered by todays fixed-wing
transport aircraft such as the C-130 and the
larger C-17 and C-5. The airships would offer
much lower speeds than the fixed-wing aircraft
would, but the airships would offer the advantage of greater independence from airfields.
Hybrid airships would be slightly slower than
todays transport helicopters but have a larger
range and the ability to carry a heavier
payload.
In addition to lift capacity, issues such as the
airships cost and vulnerability to ground fire
and high winds would need further study to
assess the suitability of airships for particular
airlift missions. Although airships would operate at similar altitudes and not dramatically
lower speeds than helicopters, they would be
much less maneuverable and thus less able to
avoid threats along their flight path. Demonstration of the needed technology is at an early
stage, and costs per airship are highly uncertain
and are not analyzed in this document.

19

AIRLIFT

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 12.

Airlift Performance for an Illustrative Deployment to the


Middle East
Aircraft
C-17

Airships

60-Ton Airship

500-Ton Airship

Sealift
LMSR

Average Throughput Capacity per Single Aircraft or Ship (Million ton-miles/day)

0.25

0.12

1.0

9.5

Cargo Delivered per Single Aircraft or Ship (Tons)

By Day 5:
By Day 15:
By Day 30:

80
230
470

0
110
220

Source: Congressional Budget Office.


Note: LMSR = large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ship.

CBO

0
900
1,850

0
0
16,500

The terms strategic lift and intertheater lift


are typically applied to systems that are
designed to move cargo or people over intercontinental distances. The current primary
providers of strategic lift are Air Force C-5 and
C-17 aircraft and Navy cargo ships. The military also has contracts with civilian aircraft and
ship operators to provide additional transportation services when necessary. A simple measure
used to characterize strategic lift systems is
average throughput capacity: the product of
payload and the distance that payload can be
moved in a day. Despite their slow speed, ships
tend to have the highest throughput capacity,
primarily because they can carry much more
than aircraft can. For a notional deployment
from the United States to the Middle East, a
sealift ship would provide nearly 30 times the
throughput capacity of a C-17. A C-17, however, could begin delivering cargo much
sooner. When considering transporting cargo
by ship or aircraft, planners must decide if
the need for a given item is urgent enough to
allocate it to the limited capacity provided by
aircraft.
Cargo airships could provide an intermediate
capability, delivering cargo more quickly than
ships but not as quickly as conventional
aircraft. The average throughput capacity
provided by an airship relative to a conventional aircraft or ship would depend on its
payload. The proposed payloads of the airships
shown earlier in this report would yield lower
throughput capacity than a C-17 because their
payloads would not be large enough to compensate for their slower speed. Larger airships
with payloads of 500 to 1,000 tons have been
proposed, and they would yield greater
throughput capacity than todays aircraft. An
airship with speed and payload large enough to
match a ships throughput capacity would
probably be impractical.

20

AIRLIFT

RECENT DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS FOR MILITARY AIRSHIPS

Exhibit 13.

Illustration of the Number of Aircraft Needed to Provide 1,000 Tons


per Day Throughput Within a Theater of Operations
(Number of aircraft needed to maintain 1,000 tons/day)
100

MV-22
80

CH-47F
60

SkyTug
40

LEMV-Heavy
20

Project Pelican
0
0

50

100

150

200

250

300

350

400

450

Distance to Delivery (Nautical miles)

Source: Congressional Budget Office.


Notes: Curves illustrate the approximate capabilities of selected aircraft using similar assumptions.
CH-47F = Chinook Helicopter; MV-22 = Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft; LEMV= Long-Endurance MultiIntelligence Vehicle.

CBO

500

The terms tactical lift and intratheater lift


are applied to systems that are designed to
move cargo or people within a theater of operationstypically a few hundred miles or less.
Tactical lift can be provided by trucks, fixedwing aircraft for airbase-to-airbase transport,
and vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (helicopters or the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey) for
transport to locations without access by road or
airbases.
Cargo airships with payloads of 20 to 60 tons
have the potential to perform well in missions
that would currently require a helicopter or
MV-22. Although somewhat slower than
contemporary helicoptersoperating at 80 to
90 knots versus more than 100 knots for helicoptersthe LEMV-Heavy, the SkyTug, and
the Project Pelican airships would have larger
payloads and longer ranges. The MV-22 is considerably faster than airships when flying in
airplane mode, with its rotors oriented like
propellers on a fixed-wing aircraft, but at the
speed of more than 200 knots, the MV-22 is
limited to carrying cargo internally, and it loses
the substantial capacity for payload that can be
carried suspended beneath the fuselage in
helicopter mode.
At distances up to about 100 nautical miles,
the number of airships needed to maintain a
given cargo throughput (for example, 1,000
tons per day) would be similar to the number
of todays vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
At distances longer than 100 nautical miles, the
greater ranges offered by the proposed airships
would enable them to maintain a given
throughput with fewer aircraft. That advantage
would allow a single airship mission to supply
several forward outposts sequentially, instead of
the several individual missions that would be
needed with todays aircraft.

21