07 January 2011

Using Near Space as a Waystation to Orbit

Skycat via Brian Wang

The Lockheed P791 can provide an observational platform at 20,000 feet for 3 week time periods. It is similar to the Skycat hybrid aircraft, which due to its buoyancy is able to take off and land vertically and saves 75% of fuel costs over conventional aircraft.
Lockheed P791 via Brian Wang

At 20,000 feet, you would need a well-insulated pressurised cabin to survive. But who wants to stay at low altitudes like 20,000 feet for only 3 weeks, when they could be living high at 50,000 feet?
Flying City for 5,000 Residents
Stratospheric flying cities provide a novel living environment for scientists or adventurous vacationers willing to accept a bit more risk for more excitement.

High altitude stations such as the JP Aerospace Stratostation (or Dark Sky Station) will provide permanently manned transfer stations for those going farther up and out.
JP Aerospace Dark Sky Station PDF
JP Aerospace is developing the technology to fly a balloon or more accurately, their relative, the airship directly to orbit.

Flying an airship directly from the ground to orbit is not practical. An airship large enough to reach orbit would not survive the winds near the surface of the Earth. Conversely, an airship that could fly from the ground to upper atmosphere would not be light enough to reach space. The resulting configuration 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. _JPAerospace PDF
The large orbital airship pictured above is over 1 mile long, and takes several days to reach orbital velocity after departing the Dark Sky Station with its payload.
Other approaches to space which pass through "near space" include the space elevator, an inflatable space tower, Josh Hall's 100 km tall space pier (pictured above), the highly imaginative "Bridge to Space" described in Mike Comb's fictional account, suborbital flights, and sub-orbital ++, among other ideas.

Most of the same competencies and precautions required to survive in orbital space are also required for life in the stratosphere. Precautions against very low atmospheric pressure and high radiation levels will be mandatory. Only competent persons need apply for working positions.

One advantage of a stratospheric habitat is that a person in an insulated pressure suit (with a parachute) can simply jump away from the structure for an invigorating free fall to the surface, with a fair to good possiblity of survival. Attempting the same thing from an orbiting habitat without a re-entry pod would certainly be fatal.

Humans have been slow to establish a permanent presence in space. There are many reasons for this hesitancy -- including economic costs and health risks -- but eventually these barely advanced apes will find a way to answer the siren's call, and thus safeguard the future of the race -- or whatever it is to evolve into.

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Blogger Loren said...

You read up on the Skylon SSTO yet?

Friday, 07 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Skylon SSTO?

It's been years since I looked at Skylon.

The hybrid engine idea needs some work, but eventually someone will succeed.

Saturday, 08 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I read somewhere that recent mathematical calculations posted on a list server showed that JP Aerospace's concept will not attain orbit and that their concept is not viable. I would post the reference here if I had it.

Saturday, 08 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Kurt: Perhaps so, perhaps not. The map is not the territory. The model is not the climate. The calculation is not the reality.

The point of the article is to think about how many different ways humans might be using high altitude atmospheric space. The proposals by JP Aerospace were sufficiently imaginative to make the list.

Whenever someone says that something categorically cannot be done, it is generally best to be skeptical. It is too easy to be prematurely discouraged by fears of failure, as Hamlet noted to himself in a fictional Denmark, long ago.

Saturday, 08 January, 2011  

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