Airships. There’s a certain nostalgic thrill to the streamline, art deco aircraft heyday that nearly was.
To the point (and as illustrated above): the Empire State Building’s observation tower was originally intended to serve as a mooring point for airships.
Achieving the power of flight by harnessing a buoyant gas is simple, reliable, quiet, low-velocity, and (after shifting away from using an explosive gas) veritably safe. -And to many’s surprise, it might soon take us to space.
Early 20th Century
Many don’t realize that the United States had airships in military service, which were outgrowths of a German design reverse-engineered after World War I.
For example, from 1922-1923, the first rigid airship, ZR-1 USS Shenandoah was constructed. Several subsequent military airships flew under the American flag prior to World War II until they became tactically obsolete.
Early 21st Cenury
Now, after decades of work, volunteer-based aerospace firm JP Aerospace has its eyes set on an orbital airship as a gateway to the stars.
How does it work? The system is essentially 180-degrees apart from the rocket-and-fanfare, minutes-to-space spaceflight that we’ve all become accustomed to. Instead, two separate classes of airships and a transfer station in-between slowly loft cargo to orbit over a matter of days.
The process is something they call “Airship-to-Orbit,” or ATO.
Essentially, an airship-to-orbit spaceflight program represents finesse versus conventional rocketry’s brute force.
Though there are still engineering challenges ahead, JP Aerospace is powering through tests of their magnetohydrodynamic thrusters and are continuing toward a stunning run of 67 high-altitude balloon and sensor platform ascents.
So, a century from prototype to spaceflight? It certainly looks possible. And if there truly is merit to the airship-to-orbit concept, based on how quickly JP Aerospace has been able to achieve flight benchmarks on a volunteer basis, then just imagine what could happen with serious backing by a government space agency.
Food for thought.
Personally, I love the architecture. There’s something about truly alien competition to conventional spaceflight providers that I think is sorely needed.
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