November 15, 2007 JP Aerospace has developed a class of twin balloon, high altitude, low cost utility airships that will be the highest flying airships ever built. Designed for use in telecommunications, reconnaissance and even as rocket or UAV launch platforms, the Tandems fill the gap between free balloons and complex high altitude airships and are capable of flying to heights of 140,000ft.
Whilst blimps like the Goodyear have a standard shaped shell, crafts in the Tandem class consist of two balloons separated by a keel. Each balloon is mounted on a ring that can rock forward and back, but not side to side. The careful management of the low-pressure zone that exists under each balloon maintains stability of the balloons during climb. Once a height of 100,000ft is reached two propellers designed for flight drive the airships kick-in, achieving up to six knots forward speed in flights of up to twelve hours duration.
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JP Aerospace is an independent space program staffed by volunteers dedicated to bringing space travel to everyone. It developed the Tandem as a tool to construct the Dark Sky Station, a high altitude port and construction facility. It will also be used as a "mothership" for small experimental airships, (Mach Gliders and X-Airships).
There are three vehicles in the Tandem class, all scalable and all-weather deployable. The 14ft long Micro-Tandem flew on October 6, 2007 as a test platform for electronics and sensors. The Standard Tandem is 30ft long (without balloons, 120ft long with) and is undergoing an electronics upgrade. The Tandem Heavy Lift is 200ft long and is lifted by roller mounted polyethylene balloons. Loads of up to five tons can be carried to 140,000ft and both crewed and autonomous versions are planned for purposes ranging from telecommunications and reconnaissance to construction of high altitude infrastructure and even a rocket or UAV launch platforms.
Each of the vehicles is short duration, low speed and low cost compared to similar craft in the field. John Powell, President of JP Aerospace, said that “compared to the costs of other high altitude airships, Tandems are almost disposable”.
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