Techsphere President Mike Lawson is so sure that the company's new 90-ft diameter AeroSphere airship, due to hover in the sky this summer, will be successful that he's already counting on an around-the-world flight in 2005 for a 130-ft-diameter version. The spherical airship, unlike a traditional balloon, is not at the mercy of the wind, and unlike blimps that use airfoils, it does not require air to move over it to exert control forces. Instead, it features an outer Kevlar®-like shell that mounts three to five lightweight, horizontally and vertically swiveling propellers for propulsion and control. This control allows the craft to land vertically with minimal ground crew. The airship has two envelopes. The first, inner helium envelope, is initially filled to only about 6 percent of the fully expanded volume, and the second, the outer envelope, has no solid structural members, being slightly pressurized to maintain a constant spherical shape in the smaller AeroSphere models. The larger, high-altitude versions will use a modular composite-tube frame for added support and strength.
Designed by 21st Century Airships (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-532), engineered by Georgia Tech Research Institute (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-533), and built by Techsphere (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-534), the AeroSphere is expected to be used as unmanned vehicles serving as sensor platforms and communications relays for both civilian and military uses. Diameter sizes of the airships run the gammet from 60 ft for the small version, which will fly best from 10,000-15,000 ft altitude with a 1,000-lb payload for up to 72 hours, to 300 ft for one that will be available in 2005, flying at 60,000-70,000-ft altitude, carrying 4,000-lb payloads for 30-60 day missions. While turbodiesel-driven generators currently power the airships, Lawson expects a combination of fuel cells and solar cells on the outside of the sphere, or possibly hydrogen-based generators, will be used to furnish electric power for long duration missions.