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  • Airships to Orbit?
    Posted by Graham Warwick 9:15 PM on Oct 27, 2011

    JP Aerospace, a volunteer-based organization dedicated to low-cost space access, is claiming an airship altitude record after its twin-balloon Tandem reached 95,085ft after launch on Oct. 22 from Nevada's Black Rock desert (the record for an unmanned balloon is 173,900ft).

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    Photos: JP Aerospace

    The unmanned Tandem is designed to carry small suborbital payloads to high altitudes. The twin balloons are separated by a 30ft-long carbon-fiber truss arrying the payloads and two electric motors, each driving a 6ft-diameter propeller designed to operate at high altitude. The airship weighed 80lb, 20lb of which was the balloons, says JP Aerospace.

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    Released from balloon launch bags, which allow flight in winds up to 45kt, the airship rose through "extreme turbulence" at 40,000-60,000ft before reaching its maximum altitude, where the motors were turned on and the airship remoerly piloted through a series of maneuvers. The mission ended when one of the balloons burst. The other was released and the Tandem parachuted to a soft landing.

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    JP Aerospace describes the Tandem as a "workhorse vehicle" for its Airship to Orbit program, under which it hopes to build manned hybrid airships that carry passengers and cargo to 140,000ft to dock with a bouyant suborbital space station. Lauched from the permanently stationed and crewed station, a large airship would then use bouyancy to climb to 200,000ft, where electric propulsion would take over and lift it into orbit over several days.

    Tags: awt, unmanned

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