JP Aerospace, three airships (and electric propulsion) to orbit?

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
The recent near space manoeuvring thread features work by J P Aerospace and got me thinking that their airship to orbit (ATO) programme deserves its own thread.

ATO is one of the more original (many say impossible!) ideas for getting to LEO. Following ATO description is taken from attached PDF:

[It] is a three-part architecture for using lighter-than-air vehicles to reach space:
  • The first part is an atmospheric airship. It will travel from the surface of the Earth to 140,000 feet. The vehicle is operated by a crew of three and can be configured for cargo or passengers. This airship is a hybrid vehicle using a combination of buoyancy and aerodynamic lift to fly. It is driven by propellers designed to operate in near vacuum.
  • The second part of the architecture is a suborbital space station. This is a permanent, crewed facility parked at 140,000 feet. These facilities, called Dark Sky Stations (DSS), act as the way stations to space. The DSS is the destination of the atmospheric airship and the departure port for the orbital airship. Initially, the DSS will be the construction facility for the large orbital vehicle.
  • The third part of the architecture is an airship/dynamic vehicle that flies directly to orbit. In order to utilize the few molecules of gas at extreme altitudes, this craft is big. The initial test vehicle is 6,000 feet (over a mile) long. The airship uses buoyancy to climb to 200,000 feet. From there it uses electric propulsion to slowly accelerate. As it accelerate it dynamically climbs. Over several days it reaches orbital velocity.

Here's an animation of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4dsvreDTsI

A couple of big technical issues spring to mind:
  • Where is the power going to come from to achieve orbital velocity?
  • How will they overcome effects of drag on such large vehicles?

But even if the third part of the architecture proves infeasible, I think parts 1 and 2 still offer some intriguing possibilities.

J P Aerospace are about half-way through a 30+ year programme, according to a recent Space Show interview. The interview Q&A includes an interesting discussion of JP's response to people who say ATO is impossible.

Note that J P Aerospace do regularly fly (balloons) in the 100,000 ft region and were responsible for lifting and filming a balsa wood chair to near space in Toshiba advert a few months back. Details on the filming and a making of video are at:

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/11/20/2133259.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2pVRHzs9U8

For more background on ATO see JP's book Floating to Space, Apogee Books, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-894959-73-5.

My heart says I really wish they succeed, my head says the obstacles are formidable. Sorry JP, I'm putting this in Space Projects not Aerospace (for now ...).
 

Attachments

  • atohandout.pdf
    225.5 KB · Views: 11

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
From JP's blog: The Builders Log (sequel to Floating to Space) will be available Christmas.

Here's an interesting picture of the orbital ascender that will be in the book:

ascender-primary-systems_s.jpg
 

bazz

ACCESS: Restricted
Joined
Sep 24, 2007
Messages
39
Reaction score
2
I have always been interested in this concept but I have always thought that after all the hurdles were overcome it still wouldn't be cost effective.

This thing would have to be absolutley massive to get a decent payload into orbit for less than it costs to use a rocket.

I really hope however I am way off the mark and it is more feasible than I reckon as this thing would be a great sight to see. I guess if it can be built big enough it could be a great He3 ferry meeting with a moon based craft in earth orbit.

I wonder how an organisation would handle landing a LTA craft of that size?
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
bazz said:
This thing would have to be absolutley massive to get a decent payload into orbit for less than it costs to use a rocket.

Well the first stage Ascender is 900 ft long and the third stage orbital ship is a mile long (which is massive in my book :)). As to cost it is fully reusable so marginal cost per flight could be relatively low. Of course it all depends on development and capital costs and flight frequencies to amortise the costs over. One advantage over rockets is that the second stage gives an intermediate destination that could give access to additional markets.

As you say though, that's presupposing it's technically achievable ...

bazz said:
I wonder how an organisation would handle landing a LTA craft of that size?

JP claims that, owing to a fair amount of automation, the ground crew would be the same size as for a jumbo jet. Of course jumbos fly a lot! I wonder how sensitive to weather conditions Ascender will be?
 

bazz

ACCESS: Restricted
Joined
Sep 24, 2007
Messages
39
Reaction score
2
FutureSpaceTourist said:
bazz said:
I wonder how an organisation would handle landing a LTA craft of that size?

JP claims that, owing to a fair amount of automation, the ground crew would be the same size as for a jumbo jet. Of course jumbos fly a lot! I wonder how sensitive to weather conditions Ascender will be?

That must be some automation! I can see this thing quite easily becoming a 900ft sail!

Also there doesn't seem to be any props/jets for low speed manuvering?
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
bazz said:
Also there doesn't seem to be any props/jets for low speed manuvering?

The first stage has propellers. Some test examples that are two metres in diameter, hollow, and made of carbon and kevlar feature in a video at:

http://www.jpaerospace.com/video/propellertest.wmv

These propellers are designed to be very efficient, to work throughout the climb and at high altitude but I assume they could also be used for low speed maneouvring.
 

bazz

ACCESS: Restricted
Joined
Sep 24, 2007
Messages
39
Reaction score
2
FutureSpaceTourist said:
bazz said:
Also there doesn't seem to be any props/jets for low speed manuvering?

The first stage has propellers. Some test examples that are two metres in diameter, hollow, and made of carbon and kevlar feature in a video at:

http://www.jpaerospace.com/video/propellertest.wmv

These propellers are designed to be very efficient, to work throughout the climb and at high altitude but I assume they could also be used for low speed maneouvring.

Thanks very much for the link that makes sense.
 

OM

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
752
Reaction score
30
Website
www.io.com
...So, anyone wanna place bets on how soon it'll be before someone claims this was the source/cause of the "Phoenix Lights"?
 

RanulfC

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 6, 2009
Messages
993
Reaction score
495
OM said:
...So, anyone wanna place bets on how soon it'll be before someone claims this was the source/cause of the "Phoenix Lights"?
Uhm, "been-done"? When the first few pictures of the CONCEPT came out there was a huge flap on several "UFO/Secret-Projects(not this one though)/what-isn't-the-government-telling-us?" boards a freind of mine frequents. (For fun, really... He's a "practical-joker" who enjoys dressing his 6-foot+ frame in a black-suit, sunglasses and going to UFO convetions to stand next to people and tell them "Hi, I'm from the government, I'm here to help you" and watch them run away crying :eek:)

I hadn't even heard of the "Phoenix-Lights" before he sent me copies of the "discussions" and I didn't get to actually SEE a video of them until someone I was TDY with at the time got sent a copy of a Discovery documentary that had a segment dealing with them. They did a pre-video build up with people being interviewed about how the lights couldn't be "this" or couldn't be that for various reasons. Then they showed the home video and the whole dayshift-dayroom all yelled at the same time: "They're FLARES!"

We couldn't really take anything after that seriously, I guess that's the issue when you actually WORK on the aircraft and munitions in question it tends to NOT help "suspending-belief" for movies and tv shows as well as things like this :eek:)

Randy
 

bazz

ACCESS: Restricted
Joined
Sep 24, 2007
Messages
39
Reaction score
2
RanulfC said:
...So, anyone wanna place bets on how soon it'll be before someone claims this was the source/cause of the "Phoenix Lights"?

I am not a proponent of little green men but I don't think flares have been developed that can fly in a precise equi-distant formation for an extended period of time.

Anyway everyone knows that only chinese lanterns have that capability with their gps and ducted fan propolsion. ;)
 

RanulfC

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 6, 2009
Messages
993
Reaction score
495
bazz said:
RanulfC said:
...So, anyone wanna place bets on how soon it'll be before someone claims this was the source/cause of the "Phoenix Lights"?

I am not a proponent of little green men but I don't think flares have been developed that can fly in a precise equi-distant formation for an extended period of time.

Anyway everyone knows that only chinese lanterns have that capability with their gps and ducted fan propolsion. ;)
Unless you've seen a different video of the "lights" they don't "fly" they fall, and drift since they are parachute illumination flares :)

And yes they are actually designed to NOT drift that far apart so that they will illuminate specific areas while they drop :)

Randy
 

sagallacci

ACCESS: Confidential
Joined
Jan 15, 2009
Messages
96
Reaction score
2
My first thought/concern is that a "base" at 100+Kft would need a really, really big gas envelope to get to and remain aloft. The graphic didn't include anything like the huge volume that I'd presume the base would need. While the spokes were long, they didn't suggest huge volumes of lifting gas supporting minimal working structures. Of course, if I missed the proper scale of it, my bad. That being said, why the spokes? Separateable in case of emergency?
As for boosting to orbit from there, the altitude is useful, but a semi-aerostat means huge (draggy) nearly empty volume, and a rigid structure means weight. The likely airframe to payload ratio couldn't be good.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
In terms of volume the first operational station (as opposed to prototypes or test versions) will have a lifting volume of 2 billion cubic feet. The five spokes are apparently mainly to do with stability. They tried various other configurations (including different numbers of spokes) in small-scale tests and overall five came out best.
 

UpForce

ACCESS: Secret
Joined
Feb 5, 2011
Messages
286
Reaction score
219
OK, hadn't thought one could have buoyancy to this degree. Search didn't return any results for "jp aerospace" here, so I take it that this hasn't been discussed yet. From JP Aerospace's handout:

Quote: "The first part is an atmospheric airship. It will travel from the surface of the Earth to 140,000 feet. The vehicle is operated by a crew of three and can be configured for cargo or passengers. This airship is a hybrid vehicle using a combination of buoyancy and aerodynamic lift to fly. It is driven by propellers designed to operate in near vacuum.

The second part of the architecture is a suborbital space station. This is a permanent, crewed facility parked at 140,000 feet. These facilities, called Dark Sky Stations (DSS), act as the way stations to space. The DSS is the destination of the atmospheric airship and the departure port for the orbital airship. Initially, the DSS will be the construction facility for the large orbital vehicle

The third part of the architecture is an airship/dynamic vehicle that flies directly to orbit. In order to utilize the few molecules of gas at extreme altitudes, this craft is big. The initial test vehicle is 6,000 feet (over a mile) long. The airship uses buoyancy to climb to 200,000 feet. From there it uses electric propulsion to slowly accelerate. As it accelerate it dynamically climbs. Over several days it reaches orbital velocity ...

... We are seven years from completion.
"

Story in AW's leading edge (I'm sure it can't have gone unnoticed by many here)
JP Aerospace's own site

If this works, it could make suborbital rocket powered dashes and perhaps even some heavy lifters look pretty silly. Space elevators seem ways off as well. Sure, the trip itself is slow going but compared to decades of struggle with manned programs and unbelievable amounts of hydrogen (... carbohydrates, exotic metals, oxidizers) expended in the process this has the potential to get unseen numbers of people and amounts of stuff into orbit in a hurry (... I kind of like the idea of an unhurried, docile, lyrically contemplative ascent into open space). Ideas such as these often originate in SciFi, anyone can think of examples here?

I'm also wondering about different criteria and perspectives on how to evaluate this project, the ramifications of airships' potential success to making humanity a massively, routinely spacefaring species. Both in a technical and in a wider sense as well.

Edit: My original post was all messed up in the layout and font department, don't know what happened there. Let's see if this is legible at all.
 

hagaricus

ACCESS: Confidential
Joined
Nov 5, 2010
Messages
67
Reaction score
10
Wow thanks for a fascinating read.. I assume the whole system would be very vulnerable to high-speed winds at altitude?
 

Dragon029

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Messages
865
Reaction score
350
With an airship that massive, I'm sure they'd be able to do a fair bit of solar-powered work as well, especially with newer spray-on and flexible solar cells being developed, etc.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
UpForce said:
Search didn't return any results for "jp aerospace" here, so I take it that this hasn't been discussed yet.

That'll be because I put a space between the J and the P: http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,9995.0.html :)

Can a moderator please merge the threads? Thanks.

JP appeared on the Space Show again a few weeks back: http://www.thespaceshow.com/detail.asp?q=1723 I found it interesting as it included some discussion on their proposed chemical-electric hybrid propulsion system and active drag management for the orbital spaceship.
 

CaseyKnight

I really should change my personal text
Joined
Jul 25, 2011
Messages
27
Reaction score
2
I don't understand the point of a system like this, sure it's interesting, but what's the point?
 

Archibald

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Jun 6, 2006
Messages
7,281
Reaction score
6,252
I'm still struggling with the concept. What about a right/ wrong Q&A ? please...

- The concept seems to be a couple of balloons - somewhat a balloon to climb, then another balloon to accelerate ??!! They somewhat cut the problem of orbital launch into halves (height first, then speed)

- Because a balloon "floats" in the atmosphere, it can takes an unlimited amount of time (= the low thrust of electric thrusters, plus all that solar energy for free) to accelerate to orbital velocity.

- The orbital airship starts with zero speed, at a height of 50 km; and then it accelerate to orbital velocity - 7 or 9 km/s of delta-V ?
- AFAIK the delta-V to reach earth orbit doesn't change with altitude... whenever you start from ground level or from a mountain or from a 50 km high platform...


It makes for a bizarre machine: a 1 mile span flying wing and airship and electric propulsion and solar arrays.
 

cluttonfred

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2008
Messages
1,410
Reaction score
173
Website
cluttonfred.info
This is fascinating stuff and a truly innovative approach. Even if it never proves practical for manned applications, it certainly seems like a great way to move cargo to low orbit, slowly and cheaply.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
Archibald said:
- The concept seems to be a couple of balloons - somewhat a balloon to climb, then another balloon to accelerate ??!! They somewhat cut the problem of orbital launch into halves (height first, then speed)

That over-simplifies, the orbital airship climbs more than the first ship. 140,000 ft doesn't get you to LEO altitudes! It does though get you above most of the atmosphere and yes the orbital ship is the one that has to achieve speed.

- Because a balloon "floats" in the atmosphere, it can takes an unlimited amount of time (= the low thrust of electric thrusters, plus all that solar energy for free) to accelerate to orbital velocity.

I think the orbital ship, even at 140k ft, is too high to float, but there's plenty of time, provided it has enough thrust to maintain altitude.

- The orbital airship starts with zero speed, at a height of 50 km; and then it accelerate to orbital velocity - 7 or 9 km/s of delta-V ?

50 km is a bit high, but yes that's the idea.

- AFAIK the delta-V to reach earth orbit doesn't change with altitude... whenever you start from ground level or from a mountain or from a 50 km high platform...

Correct, so this is one of the big challenges. Using hybrid chemical-electric propulsion (including solar power and batteries as one element) to achieve that delta V.
 

Lauge

ACCESS: Secret
Joined
Jan 30, 2008
Messages
434
Reaction score
20
CaseyKnight said:
I don't understand the point of a system like this, sure it's interesting, but what's the point?
Uhm....to get into orbit safely, cheaply, and without all that g-force and vibration stuff that rockets are full of?

I've always liked the JP Aerospace approach and, with my admittedly limited understanding of the technologies involved, I would say that they have a greater chance of success than many others. Not so much due to their technology (although going into orbit in an airship would be seriously steampunky) but due to their business model. Every time they fly a test and development article to try out new technologies, they sell excess lift capacity, thus funding development as they go along. Good luck to them, I say.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 

Grey Havoc

ACCESS: USAP
Senior Member
Joined
Oct 9, 2009
Messages
16,998
Reaction score
6,624
Somewhat tangential, rather than trad deltas, seeing that sketch of the infamous 'Flying V' brought to mind...
Floating to Space: The Airship to Orbit Program (Apogee Books Space Series) Paperback by John N Powell (Author)

IIRC, his proposed 'surface to ~140 k-feet' vehicles are helium-filled ballonets in twin 'sausages' arranged as huge 'V' by light-weight carbon-fibre trusses. Designed 'weird' propellers to provide efficient thrust...

Down-side, severe danger of giggling.
Up-side, his team do routinely build and fly instruments to edge of space...
 

Byeman

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jan 8, 2010
Messages
900
Reaction score
88
If this works, it could make suborbital rocket powered dashes and perhaps even some heavy lifters look pretty silly. Space elevators seem ways off as well. Sure, the trip itself is slow going but compared to decades of struggle with manned programs and unbelievable amounts of hydrogen (... carbohydrates, exotic metals, oxidizers) expended in the process this has the potential to get unseen numbers of people and amounts of stuff into orbit in a hurry (... I kind of like the idea of an unhurried, docile, lyrically contemplative ascent into open space). Ideas such as these often originate in SciFi, anyone can think of examples here?

I'm also wondering about different criteria and perspectives on how to evaluate this project, the ramifications of airships' potential success to making humanity a massively, routinely spacefaring species. Both in a technical and in a wider sense as well.

Edit: My original post was all messed up in the layout and font department, don't know what happened there. Let's see if this is legible at all.
This post now looks silly
 

Nik

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jul 15, 2009
Messages
550
Reaction score
202
IIRC, the Russians set that precedent with Sputnik. Apparently to US authorities' quiet relief...

More seriously, the JP 'orbital' vehicles will be un-stealthed, visible, easy to track. And, presumably, take a well publicised flight-path that avoids North Korea and other migraine-inducers...

"I'm sorry you're not prepared to let us overfly, we could have given you a nice discount on mass-haul rates in return for the savings..."
 

Byeman

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jan 8, 2010
Messages
900
Reaction score
88
IIRC, the Russians set that precedent with Sputnik. Apparently to US authorities' quiet relief...

More seriously, the JP 'orbital' vehicles will be un-stealthed, visible, easy to track. And, presumably, take a well publicised flight-path that avoids North Korea and other migraine-inducers...

"I'm sorry you're not prepared to let us overfly, we could have given you a nice discount on mass-haul rates in return for the savings..."
Over flight from orbit is ok, aerodynamic overflight (lower than Van Karman line) is not.
 

Nik

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jul 15, 2009
Messages
550
Reaction score
202
Thank you for essential clarification: I'd missed that...
 

Similar threads

Top