Gary Michael Church
The dirigible airship, the Zeppelin, may well spell the end of the satellite industry within a decade or two. Using new technology to make safe (with a double hull nitrogen ignition barrier), manipulate, and utilize the hydrogen lifting gas, these airships are the ultimate telecommunications platforms. The superiority of these stationary platforms hovering at 100,000 feet for months on end to the proposed networks of thousands of tiny satellites is obvious. When these airships reach a critical number and provide global relay capability even the geosynchronous satellites will suddenly be completely and hopelessly obsolete. With no satellites to launch the satellite launch industry will die. One factor driving this coming disruption is anti-satellite brinksmanship and the accompanying space debris issue. Concerns that global telecommunications could suffer an overnight catastrophe can be addressed with a relatively cheap and easy to replace/repair/upgrade airship fleet.
The satellite launch industry is headed for collapse and because airships can be constructed so quickly and are such a low risk technology the rapidity of the satellite industry collapse will be…..astounding.
The present network communications satellites can and should be replaced by high altitude dirigibles. A fleet of dirigibles hovering in the 100,000 feet altitude range and relaying information to each other from horizon to horizon across the globe. These different national fleets would essentially replace all satellites currently in use for telecommunications, navigation, and earth observation and provide much more effective cell phone and internet services due to being stationary and only 20 miles in altitude.
1. A double hull with a thin outer hull filled with nitrogen would provide an ignition barrier against any Hindenburg-type catastrophe. These dirigibles become more efficient the larger they become and in sizes comparable to the U.S. Navy Airships Macon and Akron have payloads of over one hundred tons. That payload using 1920’s technology can now be traded off by lifting less mass for very high altitude performance. If desired, dirigibles could be semi-autonomous and also accommodate small crews in pressurized cabins for specialized missions. These crew cabins could shuttle to these dirigibles in the air by capturing an arresting wire and detaching from a carrier aircraft or detaching from the dirigible and using a ram-air wing to descend and land.
2. Manipulation of hydrocarbon fuels and water as a hydrogen source and utilizing the hydrogen in reversible fuel cells, along with solar cells operating above the clouds at altitude, would provide months-long endurance. The large hydrogen filled structure could be utilized to protect electronics from any conceivable disrupting effects- even a Carrington-level- event might be survivable.
3. The airships have a service life as long as satellites, and can be brought down periodically for maintenance, upgrade, and repairs, and sent back up. They can also be moved several thousand miles to disaster zones, and be air-refueled when needed in winter-dark latitudes. Considering the cost of a satellite, the cost of rocket launch for the satellite, and rate of failures, the cost of a relatively simple metal and fabric frame and associated systems for the same price equates to Macon/Akron size dirigibles with a much lower initial cost. Since airspeed would not be the primary need these dirigibles would more likely be circular in design, even a fat-torus (doughnut) shape may suit some radar configurations.
Revolutionary concept application: Eventually, these dirigible hulls could be structurally connected to form an airborne-very-large-rectenna (cloud city!) for microwave power transmission from Space Solar Power satellites. The energy could then be concentrated into a tighter beam, with a much smaller danger zone incurred for transmission of energy to the surface of Earth.
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