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TelescopeLook up! Blimps, zeppelins and airships of all sizes are making their way through the skies. The strange-looking, floating craft are no longer an oddity as giant billboards--but they can also drift above the worst weather on Earth for communications, science and military applications.
A new proposal from Robert A. Fesen of Dartmouth College adds to the call for a high-altitude airship to serve as the platform for a telescope. Two airships pieced together like a catamaran could hold a telescope adrift about 13 miles over the Earth, above the weather and heavy atmosphere. Or a V-shaped airship, like the 175-foot Ascender (left) from JP Aerospace could hold a telescope platform. High winds, however, tore the ship apart during its test flight.
If successful, it could be a very low-cost alternative or supplement to an orbiting telescope like the Hubble, which is suffering from a broken camera and will no longer be repaired by astronauts. Hubble, launched in 1990, has already exceeded its original life expectancy of 15 years.