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Project Proposal

16 December 2016

Kelly Crocker, Vallabi Vallaban, Noah Wong

Project Zephyr


This project was supported by the Governors School at Innovation Park in partnership with

George Mason University. This research would not have been possible without the advice and

support of instructor, Dr. Ales Psaker, and director, Dr. Jason Calhoun. Finally, the team would

like to express appreciation for the advice and insight provided by the students of the Junior

Physics Mentorship class. Thank you.


The integration of the autonomous solar powered airship into the fold of aerial vehicles

is a significant landmark because it marks a shift to long term testing being implemented

regularly and without human supervision. This system opens the door to numerous new

possibilities for data analysis because it will increase the amount of data available while

eliminating the skewing of data that results from human error. Project Zephyr has the goal of

designing an autonomous airship for the purpose of air composition measuring and monitoring.

The airship will be equipped to continuously measure hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide

levels while aloft over both rural and urban centers. The objective of this research project is to

draw conclusions about the locations and concentrations of different pollutants in the atmosphere

above urban areas as compared to rural areas. This goal will be obtained through the testing of

hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide levels by sensors mounted to the payload container on

the autonomous solar powered airship. The readings from the sensors will be relayed to a

Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi will run the data through a program to convert it into a

comprehensible visual aid called a Zephyrgram. The ability to monitor air composition at a

relatively low cost would allow manufacturing companies to ensure they remain within the

federal pollution limits implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys Clean Air

Act. Routine testing would enable an analysis of data to determine the effectiveness of various

proposed pollution reduction techniques as well.


Pollution is a steadily increasing reality in the modern world and is beginning to make its

presence known in more impactful ways. Although global warming and ozone depletion are

possibly the most widely recognized effects of pollution on the atmosphere, air pollution has a

variety of wide-ranging effects. Two hundred million people are affected significantly by

pollution each year; air pollution kills an average of two million people annually (Pollution

Facts). Pollution is a terminal factor which indicates the unsustainability of current energy

sources in the human habitat. Both hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide are released through

the burning of common fuels. Hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of the burning of petroleum and

fossil fuels while carbon monoxide is produced by the burning of motor fuels such as gasoline.

Because they are produced by the combustion of fairly common fuels, these pollutants will

become even more prevalent in the future as the fossil fuel crisis reaches its peak.

Like most air pollution, hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide are present in the

troposphere, the part of the atmosphere closest to the earths surface that extends out about ten

kilometers. For this reason, aerial vehicles can be effectively modified to monitor pollution

within this range. For the purposes of this research the air composition will be measured at a

constant altitude. The EPA would most likely utilize an airship to measure air composition and

distribution of pollutants at different altitudes. Hydrogen sulfide in particular is generally heavier

than air and sinks closer to ground level than many other pollutants. As a result, it can be

especially impactful on humans in the short term. Both carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide

are deadly gases. Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because it is odorless, colorless, and

tasteless. Its lethality is due to its ability to bond with hemoglobin in the blood better than

oxygen. This deprives the brain and vital organs of oxygen which if sustained for a certain period

of time leads to loss of consciousness and eventually becomes fatal.


In recognition of the effect pollution has on the environment, Project Zephyr has

committed to producing an aerial vehicle for pollution testing that will gather data without

emitting more pollution into the atmosphere. This was the reasoning behind making the airship

solar powered. The decision has the added benefit of avoiding possible contamination of results

by pollution released during the combustion of motor fuels.

The idea of a solar powered airship has been considered before. Many airship research

and design programs have the benefit of both government and corporate funding. These

programs are set up to test and improve upon the efficiency of solar powered airships. The main

goal of the project run by Kantor was to decide what characteristics and technologies had to be

included into a solar powered airship in order for it to stay aloft for periods longer than twenty-

four hours. In order to achieve this, the batteries on board the airship had to be capable of storing

enough energy to run the airship through the night without the aid of the photovoltaic cells. On

the other hand, the photovoltaic cells had to have an area large enough to gather the amount of

energy needed for the overnight hours while still running the blimp itself. Essentially, the solar

energy gathered in the ten hours of sunlight had to meet the needs of running the airship during

daylight hours while charging the battery to capacity and still allowing for recovery in the case of

cloud cover, a truly daunting task (Kantor). For research teams experimenting with a full-sized

airship, the main issues were the ratio of photovoltaic cells to batteries as well as the type of

battery that would most effectively hold a charge in relation to its weight (Kantor). Project

Zephyrs airship will be only 2.5m by 1.5m by 1.8m, so it will not require a large number of

batteries. Cost consideration considerably limited the number of battery choices that were

available as well. The team eventually settled on using a nine volt battery because at this point,

the limited budget makes the achievement of continuous flight infeasible.



What effect do demographic characteristics have on air composition especially the

pollution indicators of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide as measured by an autonomous

solar powered airship?


The air composition above densely populated urban areas will be greater in concentration

of human-generated pollutants such as an excess amount of carbon dioxide and airborne

particulates while the air composition in proximity to manufacturing plants will consist of a

greater concentration of pollutant byproducts of chemical reactions such as carbon monoxide and

hydrogen sulfide. The air composition of rural areas will be characterized by significantly lower

levels of both human-generated pollutants and pollutant byproducts of chemical reactions.

Null hypothesis

A difference in demographic characteristics will not have a significant impact on the air

composition above each testing area due to pollutant dispersion in the atmosphere.

Materials and Methods


The materials required for this project were determined through a series of qualifying

requirements based on the safety, budget, and compatibility with other components on the

airship. For the lifting system, the airship will utilize helium gas as opposed to hydrogen due to

its incombustibility and lighter-than-air composition. As for the the material containing the

helium and encompassing the dirigible, it was decided that Mylar was best suited for the

projects purpose and was a cost efficient alternative to the traditionally used material, Kevlar.

For this project, the airship will utilize various sensors such as a GPS to track direction and

maintain navigation. The airship would also be equipped with a carbon monoxide sensor and

hydrogen sulfide sensor to measure the air composition and pollutants in the vicinity and both

will be mounted on top of the airship to maximize the quantity and quality of the data collected.

Since the carbon monoxide and hydrogen sensors are the most cost effective as well as

lightweight sensors, these gases will be the main type of pollutants our project will focus on.

Photovoltaic cells will be used to provide a renewable source of energy for the airship. The

energy outputted by these cells would be used by the computing system aboard the airship as

well as to power the hardware and sensors. When it is not capable of using those photovoltaic

cells, the system will use the batteries stored on the airship which are also charged by those cells.

As for computational systems, a computer or arduino board will have to be utilized to

effectively gather and analyze the data as well as properly telemeter the information back to a

main computational system. For our mission objectives, the airship will range to be around 2.5m

long and will be propelled by six electric motors for maneuvering, with the electric motors also

being powered by the photovoltaic cells. Along with using electric motors controlled by a

previously loaded steering program as a method of navigation, the airship will be equipped with

manual override controlled via radio controller off-board the airship. This will allow for effective

telecommunication between the airship and the controller in the case of emergencies while

leaving the airship to be autonomously controlled during testing in an effort to maintain a

constant altitude and flight patterns without human error. The program will need to be equipped

to deal with certain weather factors such as wind in order to maintain the constant altitude that is

needed for accurate and comparable data.

Data Analysis

Component Mass (g)

charge controller 150
photovoltaic cells (41.7 g/unit) (6 units) 250.2
carbon monoxide detector 272.2
hydrogen sulfide detector 113.4
raspberry pi B+ 45
GPS tracker 9.8
Mylar 819
9 V Battery (45.6 g/unit) (value

approximate) 140
3D printed supports (value approximate) 500
motors (50 g/unit) (6 units) 300
rudder and steering mechanism (approx) 300
Wiring (approx) 100
total payload 2999.6
Figure 1: The payload breakdown for the airship. This was used to determine the amount of

helium needed to get the airship aloft.

The stability of this project rests on the payload of the airship. The payload is made up of

the items listed in the above figure and determines the amount of helium needed for lift and

therefore the volume of the air pouch. Because helium only has a lift capacity of 29.855

kilograms per 28.3168 cubic meters, every gram counts. With the dimensions, 2.5m by 1.5m by

1.8m, the Zephyr will have a volume of 3.53 cubic meters and be able to lift the projected three

kilograms of payload weight.

The primary methods of data collection are the carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide

sensors contained in the payload. These will be appropriately modified to send data via USB to

the onboard Raspberry Pi B+. The Pi will then have an SQL database program for storing this

information and mapping it to a set of GPS coordinates from the onboard GPS tracker. The

information from this database will then be run through a Java-based program designed to turn

that data into an understandable format we call a Zephyrgram. The Zephyrgram will be

displayed as an image containing simple color-based patterns for the easy recognition of

pollution zones. Each pixel will contain a red value which is a carbon monoxide level and a blue

value which is its hydrogen sulfide level. Areas with high CO levels will display as bright red,

areas with high H2S levels will display as bright blue, and areas with high levels of both will

show up bright purple. These patterns are easily recognizable and can be used for display

purposes, as can be seen here (see Figure 2).

(Figure 2) This is an example Zephyrgram with the red circle representing a center of

CO pollution, and the blue circle representing a center of H2S pollution. It is this kind of image

that the processing software will output.


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