2 of 16Image
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.
StratelliteAirships are divided into two main categories: rigid airships with rigid frames, i.e. zeppelins, and nonrigid or semirigid airships that maintain their shape by internal pressure. Blimps were named after the sound made after poking a finger into the shell.
Another airship concept is the "stratellite," which is essentially a cell tower that would float about 65,000 feet, or about 12 miles, above the Earth. The extra height would enable just 12 stratellites to completely cover the United States, according to its developer, GlobeTel Communications.
21st Century Airships
The company 21st Century Airships claims that its high-altitude airship can stay aloft for a month and will soon be able to stay on flights that could last as long as a year. The company builds its airships in a spherical shape, saying they have less surface area and will leak less, turn quicker and move faster than tradition cigar-shaped models.