On the face of it, the idea of using airships tends to seem fanciful. But in the context of the transportation demands of marine settlement it becomes one of the most practical of options because of the way it so readily fills the gaps in range and operating cost left by contemporary aircraft. And it offers ready potential for the use of renewable energy owing to its unique characteristics. Long before the internal combustion engine achieved a power-to-mass ratio sufficient to allow fixed wing flight, it was routinely powering airships and remained the only practical means of intercontinental flight right up to WWII. And while it is common for aerospace engineers to belittle the airship as an antiquated technology, it continues to offer a spectrum of capability untouched by the most sophisticated of fixed or rotary wing aircraft. These capabilities relate to applications that may be somewhat outside the sphere of general aviation today, because of the way the air transportation industry has evolved to favor small numbers of mega-air-terminals that leave air traffic as limited as container ship traffic. But these applications still exist, have commercial value, and are of particular importance to marine and Third World development. Were this not as undeservedly stigmatized a technology as it is today, we would likely be seeing these vessels in much more routine use.
Updated Technology Edit
Marshal Savage envisioned the airship as the key form of Aquarian transportation and though his specific choice of experimental airship technology was not as practical as he had originally thought, he was quite correct in realizing how critical and difficult the challenge of transportation for the marine colony and how ideally the airship overcomes that challenge. Today we understand that the potential of contemporary airship technology far exceeds what even Savage had imagined, particularly in its potential use of renewable energy. For now we have the capability to produce airships of vast cargo capacity that can travel any distance across the globe, at higher altitudes than ever before, and at twice the speed of marine vessels yet with no fuel cost! Furthermore, we can now repurpose much the same technology to create stratospheric platforms that outperform satellites as a telecommunications platform at a fraction of the cost and even offer the option of telerobotic or manned facilities that can serve as test-beds for orbital station systems.
The new Aquarian Airship as envisioned in TMP2 is a derivative of scientist/engineer Michael Walden’s VTOL-capable LTAS (lighter-than-air-solar) concept and would employ an unusual flattened ovoid dirigible hull that features an integral photovoltaic skin on its top surface and a hybrid power system combining electric power with fuel cell or microturbine power plants for higher speed operation and the use of hydrogen, hydride, or methanol fuels. Under solar power alone, the vessel is likely to support 50-60mph speeds with unlimited range and no fuel cost. With fuel and a limit on range, this speed could be increased to twice or three times that –certainly no speed competition for jet aircraft but far superior to surface ships, by which most of the world’s cargo travels.
The First Three Generations Edit
Three generations of this hull system are likely; a modest sized 30m first-generation based on largely conventional but carbon-composite based space-frame internal structures and an elastomeric membrane skin, a 60m or 120m second-generation rigid carbon fiber composite hull that is better suited to long duration large payload use and allowing internalization of many features, and an advanced 60-120m or much larger third-generation hull employing nanofiber composites that integrates all functional features and would allow for the use of vacuum lift rather than lighter-than-air gas.
Devoid of fins and employing active steering by its electric-powered fan propulsion, all generations of the airship would have a common architecture based on simple centralization of payload mass and functional systems around a central payload bay at the bottom center of the hull. The internal lift cell structures would be arrayed in a roughly toroidal form and feature integral air bladders for a dynamic air ballast system that eliminates the need for most ballast, though a traditional liquid trim control ballast system may also be employed. The first-generation vessel would employ a very simple center-bottom open frame structure for its payload handling and support of its two simple outrigger fan booms –intended to allow quick attachment of largely experimental hardware and light payloads. With the second-generation this would evolve into a shallow payload bay hosting most functional systems internal to the hull and internalizing the payload frame in the form of a payload ‘backplane’ to which cargo, passenger modules, portable buildings, as well as conventional (but aluminum and fiberglass structured) ISO containers attach by overhead connectors. The first ‘workhorse’ airship, this vessel would use its overhead payload attachment, surface-effect caster landing gear, and refined VTOL flight capability with four 360 degree vectored ducted fan thrusters for very rapid cargo handling and use reconfiguration. Equipped with a RoboCrane hoist system, it would be a critical transport and recovery vehicle supporting early Bifrost launch program activity.
With the third-generation advanced nanofiber composite hull, functional systems, propulsion, and payload handling would become fully internalized with integral cross-flow fan and compressed air jet thrusters, four pressurized perimeter hull cabins, and a large skylight-topped and solid-state light-ring bottomed central bay running from top to bottom of the hull serving as an adaptive multi-use space. Left open, it would host an overhead cargo backplane that can lower to the bottom to allow quick attachment of cargo then lift up to shelter that cargo within the streamlined hull. A flush-mounted cargo deck would be used for RoRo cargo handling, lowering on telescoping pylons or tethers and deploying short ramps for cargo transfer then lifting up into the hull and locking rigidly in place, leaving a smooth surface. Finally, a ‘cruising’ module would enclose the bay like a conventional airship gondola, allowing the internal bay space to be converted into an atrium like that of a hotel or cruise liner with as large skylight on top and space for restaurants and lounges. This sleek minimalist-looking third generation vessel would be scalable to many sizes and may grow from small ‘yachts’ to great cargo-carrying titans that would also be vaguely suggestive in appearance of the starships of the Solaria phase. A circular hulled form might be developed specifically as a kind of flying RV, eco-tourism vessel, flying dive-boat, or sky-crane/recovery vehicle.
With unlimited range under solar energy alone and VTOL capability these vessels would be able to link Equatorial marine colonies to every part of the globe, including locations no other form of transportation can reach. This would give Aquarian goods a powerful commercial edge because they could be delivered directly to the most remote markets ands with no fuel overhead, offering a great discount on intermediate transit costs.
Though susceptible as all airships are to inclement weather, with their pressurized cabin systems they would be able to fly at greater than airliner altitudes and could park at these altitudes for indefinite periods of time, using active station-keeping. This parking mode could even be operated by remote, allowing marine colonies to use the upper-atmosphere as a weather-free parking zone for their airship fleets. This capability would, of course, also enable the design of aerostat systems for telecommunications, which would be similar in structure but use simpler circular lenticular hulls with vertical telecom array booms beneath them. Such aerostats would be employed as a wireless network platform providing very high bandwidth links to the continents without the latency or high cost of satellites. Manned stratospheric stations would also share this form, though with TransHab-like cabin modules attached to the hull perimeter and the vertical boom and an airship docking port at its bottom.
Developing a Global Transportation System Edit
Development of the Aquarian Airship may begin at a very early stage in TMP –early in the Foundation phase and before Aquarius Seed settlements have even been started. Unlike other aircraft technologies, as sophisticated as airships can potentially become, their basic technology is current accessible at the ‘garage shop’ fabrication level and so early designs of the Aquarian airship can be readily and safely experimented with today in the form of small scale working models, single/dual passenger vehicles, and teleoperated vehicles of most any size.
Engineered for incremental technology improvement by using a modular component structure, the Aquarian Airship would be subject to constant evolution of its systems as technology improves. With the advent of nanofiber membranes, this may lead to the use of vacuum lift technology based on tensegrity membrane cells that can tolerate evacuation at sea level and thus serve as an even more efficient form of lighter-than-air system than any gas. This, along with new lighter frame structures similarly based on nanofiber composites, would radically improve the cost-performance of the Aquarian Airship as well as its functional performance, affording greater carrying capacity and higher operating altitudes.
Like the Solar Wingsail Cruiser, the Aquarian Airship is likely to become an icon of the Aquarian culture and may persist in use well into the Solaria stage, even when other more advanced transportation systems like the Circum-Equatorial Transit Network and materials internets have largely obsolesced most air and marine surface travel.
Design Images and NotesEdit
Notes: The above design images represent a larger later-generation Aquarian Airship employing nanofiber and/or diamondoid based materials and vacuum-lift flotation with either a space frame supported toroidal cellular membrane lift cell system or a nanofiber composite rigid hull structure. Extreme lightness and higher mass-fraction with vacuum lift afford a more integrated design, featuring hull-integrated horizontally mounted electric thruster fans with dual-mode vertical/horizontal thrust turrets affording 360 degree thrust vectoring. The design also features a unique 'window ribbon' along a perimeter edge corridor linking the fore and after bridge cabins and side 'flying bridge' cabins with passenger lounge, these also linked by tunnel corridors to the center payload bay. These cabins and corridors would be fully pressurized for high altitude operation and may be lavishly appointed depending on the mode of use. The interior design of the main and secondary bridges would feature a step-down console area with wrap-around lounge seating allowing for both standing and seated flight operation. The main bridge would feature a stationary touch-display console whole the alternate bridges would feature much smaller fold-away command consoles used chiefly in VTOL operations.
As noted previously, the design is intended to operate in three modes based on interchangeable components. An open bay flight mode features an exposed central payload bay where an overhead space frame rig with vertical translation allows for the attachment of modular cargo containers featuring top-mounted attachment points or the handling of very large oddly shaped payloads which cannot normally fit in the payload bay. Equipped with an 8-anchor RoboCrane -a variation of the system shown in the above RoboCrane photo- the vessel would be flown in VTOL mode and used for both construction applications and in-water recovery of spacecraft, and rescue operations. A RoboCrane is a cable-based variation on the concept of the Hexapod or Stewart Platform robotic manipulator.
An enclosed bay flight mode would employ a cable or shaft suspended cargo deck module which lowers whole for loading and deploys side ramps for convenient RORO access. In flight, the deck is raised flush to the belly of the airship and locks in place at the base of the payload bay. And overhead skylight at the top of the bay affords natural illumination in and under the bay area. The enclosed bay mode would be used mostly for palletized cargo handling but special payload modules, as noted above, would be capable of being outfitted as complete deployable facilities for rapid VTOL deployment and recovery. The enclosed flight mode would be suited to both cargo and passenger travel, though employing only a few modest cabins clustered around the flying bridge lounge spaces.
A cruise liner mode would employ a specialized cruise gondola module which retrofit to the underside of the airship hull and converts the payload bay into a multi-level atrium including shops, lounges, and spas linked by ramps and an elevator. Illuminated by the overhead skylight, the atrium could contain a variety of novelties such as natural trees, aquariums, rock climbing structures, and more. The single-storey gondola would feature an array of side passenger cabins and fore and aft observation lounges.
Earlier generations of the Aquarian Airship are likely to be much less elaborate vessels. They may feature only fore cabin or small conventional under-slung gondola modules with outrigger electric thrusters.
Note also that some details are missing from these early design renderings including the photovoltaic upper hull skin and deployed RoboCrane.
Update: The third generation concept has been updated, eliminating vertical ducted turret thrusters in favor of the more minimalist use of dual segmented ducted cross-flow thrusters using fluidic thrust vectoring and integral motors. An open fan form of this propulsion is under consideration for the earlier generation vessels. The perimeter window-ribbon has also been replaced by simpler axial cabin domes, the cabins linked to the central atrium.
Update: The second generation concept has been updated to include a new Voith-Schneider propulsion variant. A key design challenge for the contemporary airship is effective thrust vectoring and a recent revival of the aircraft application of the Voith-Schneider propeller sees this as a likely lower mass, higher performance, faster response alternative to the articulated ducted fan, though possibly with the nominal trade-off of lower maximum airspeed. With this variant design we see better integration with landing struts that are free to elevate over greater hight and a much simpler fixed mounting configuration relying on vertical motor positioning. Simple flat deflector panels afford downthrust assist for both VTOL and STOL launch modes.
Another new feature of this variant is a pressurized self-contained pilot house pod with full 360° hemispherical bridge view that is demountable whole. About the size of a modest house, the pilot house supports independent crew quarters suited to long journeys while the new bridge view affords better observation of ground, RoboCrane, and surface recovery activity in VTOL operation. This much better suits the airship's role as a multi-purpose workhorse suited to diverse payloads, construction, and recovery activity. This more self-contained unit also better suits the idea of the second-generation hull as, itself, a more self-contained multi-purpose modular element to which other elements are retrofit.
Also shown here is a cruise liner pod with a slightly re-proportioned payload backplane now sporting an integral LED lighting ring to aid ground/surface activity.
>Hyperblimp.com offers further ideas on airships 188.8.131.52 19:02, December 20, 2009 (UTC) Daniel Geery.
- Solar Ferry
- Solar Wingsail Cruiser
- Relay Archipelago
- Aquarian Personal Rapid Transit System
- Aquarian Personal Packet Transit and SuperStore
- Aquarian SE Downstation
- Circum-Equatorial Transit Network