Aircraft

Solar Ship: The hybrid airship with a low-carbon twist

Solar Ship: The hybrid airship...
The Solar Ship could be used for a variety of applications - including tourism (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship could be used for a variety of applications - including tourism (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship requires only short distances for takeoff and landings (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship requires only short distances for takeoff and landings (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship could be used to deliver urgent supplies to remote communities (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship could be used to deliver urgent supplies to remote communities (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship could be used to deliver urgent supplies to disaster-hit areas (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship could be used to deliver urgent supplies to disaster-hit areas (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship
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The Solar Ship
The Solar Ship could be used for a variety of applications - including tourism (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship could be used for a variety of applications - including tourism (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The 10 m prototype Solar Ship on a test flight (Image: Solar Ship)
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The 10 m prototype Solar Ship on a test flight (Image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship design sees solar panels covering the upper surface area of the aircraft (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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The Solar Ship design sees solar panels covering the upper surface area of the aircraft (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
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In recent times there's been a resurgence of interest in airships for military and commercial uses as evidenced by Lockheed Martin's High Altitude Long Endurance-Demonstrator (HALE-D) and Hybrid Air Vehicles heavy-lift variant of Northrop Grumman's Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). Like HAV's design, this concept from Canadian company Solar Ship is a hybrid airship that relies on aerodynamics to help provide lift, and like the HALE-D, it would have its top surface area covered in solar cells to provide energy and minimize its carbon footprint.

Although the Solar Ship aircraft would be filled with helium, under normal circumstances they would rely on the aerodynamic lift provided by their wing shape to provide more than half the lift required to get them off the ground. Additionally, the aircraft could also fly when filled with plain old air. This means the aircraft will still be able to fly - and, more importantly, land safely - if there is damage that results in helium loss.

Solar Ship says the aircraft's electric motor can either be powered solely by the energy provided by the on board batteries, or by the solar panels covering the wing - a feat already achieved by a conventional airplane design in the form of Solar Impulse.

The Solar Ship design sees solar panels covering the upper surface area of the aircraft (Rendered image: Solar Ship)
The Solar Ship design sees solar panels covering the upper surface area of the aircraft (Rendered image: Solar Ship)

The company points out that such heavier-than-air airships provide numerous advantages over their lighter-than-air brethren. Firstly, no mooring infrastructure or ballast weight is required to keep the aircraft from floating away during loading or unloading, making them more practical for the remote locations in which they are designed to operate. Additionally, not relying on buoyancy for lift means the aircraft can be smaller than lighter-than-air aircraft carrying the same payload. They are also more structurally robust and more maneuverable and resistant to wind and weather conditions.

Small, medium, large

Solar Ship has designed three different concept aircraft, the smallest of which is the Caracal. This design has a claimed payload capacity of up to 750 kg (1,653 lb) for 2,500 km (1,553 miles) with a maximum speed of 120 km/h (75 mph). Designed for remote areas where roads are a rarity and targeted at general, utility and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) markets, the Caracal can take off and land on strips as short as 50 m (164 ft) long but carrying the maximum payload requires strips of 100 m (328 ft).

Next step up in size is the mid-size Chui, which is targeted at ISR and cargo markets. Under solar power it can carry up to 2,500 kg (5,512 lb) over distances of up to 5,000 km (3,107 miles) at speeds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph). The take off and landing distances of the Chui are the same as the Caracal - 50 m (164 ft) empty and 100 m (328 ft) when fully loaded.

The 10 m prototype Solar Ship on a test flight (Image: Solar Ship)
The 10 m prototype Solar Ship on a test flight (Image: Solar Ship)

The third and largest Solar Ship class is the Nanuq, a dedicated cargo freighter designed to carry payloads of up to 30 tonnes (66,139 lb) for distances of up to 6,000 km (3,728 miles) at speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph). Empty the Nanuq can take off on strips 60 m (197 ft) long and land on strips 100 m (328 ft) long, while fully loaded requires a take off distance of 200 m (656 ft).

Solar Ship has already built and flown a 10 m (33 ft) prototype. The promotional video below provides a glimpse of the company's vision for the future in which it sees a wide range of uses for its heavier-than-air aircraft, from delivery of urgent medical supplies to remote communities and disaster relief, to environmental monitoring and military applications.

... and with several company's floating short take off hybrid airship platforms, this is definitely a space to watch over the next decade.

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18 comments
Slowburn
If I\'m going to go lighter than air I want full buoyancy especially under no power.
David Evans
6,000 km at speeds of \"up to\" 120 km/hr? That\'s a flight time of at least 50 hours. I hope the cabin is luxurious, with beds and a kitchen.
I also think there must be faster ways of delivering urgent medical supplies. Parachute from a C130, for instance.
A lot depends on price. If the small version is very much cheaper than a helicopter it may find a market.
bgstrong
Every time I hear that something is designed for its \"Low Carbon Footprint\" I know it going to be an over-priced piece of junk..
Will Sharp
Still worried about the fact it uses helium instead of hydrogen. Helium isn\'t exactly a limitless resource.
kellory
\"Additionally, the aircraft could also fly when filled with plain old air. This means the aircraft will still be able to fly - and, more importantly, land safely - if there is damage that results in helium loss.\" Direct quote, Do I REALLY have to point out that if you have a hole that lets out the hellium, it would let out the air too??? Brainless.
Eric MacAfee
thier motto is pretty blunt about why this is so awesome. \"no roads, no fuel, no infrastructure\" . It can fly for 50 hours, with no fuel. doesn\'t need a runway to land. that\'s pretty neat. I can see this being pretty huge , especially for supplying remote communities.
it\'s a Canadian company, there\'s deffinately a market at home for them.
Honestly, just looking at that picture. how much could the materials have cost them for that prototype? looks like it would be affordable to sell as a flippin\' hobby kit. so equisite.
real footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjxpA68zYAM&feature=related
J. James
@Will
Don\'t worry about it. The oil will run out before the helium, and massive new stores of the stuff have been discovered recently. Even then, no helium=/= no airships. There are plenty other viable lift gases. Hot air and it\'s more powerful sibling steam, possibly ammonia, and of course a nonflammable Nitrogen/Hydrogen mix.
@kellory
Please give these people a little credit. First of all, it would take a huge hole in a Nanuk-sized airship to be of immediate danger to it- think midair collision or hitting a flying iceberg. It isn\'t even going to notice a AK-47 unloading into it or SAM passing through it. So it\'s not like it\'s in constant danger from sewing needles. Second, you don\'t know what kind of structure- of any- this will have. For all you know, it\'s a fully rigid Zeppelin. If it was semi-rigid or nonrigid, it would have balonets- air-filled balloons within the balloon- to keep it under very slight pressure so it can fly, and to compensate for altitude. The balonets are constantly inflated by fans.
Not so brainless after all, eh?
Slowburn
re; kellory
Continuously pumping.
Submergency
@Will Sharp: \"Helium isn\'t exactly a limitless resource.\" -- Only the second most common element in the universe.
@kellory: \"if you have a hole that lets out the hellium, it would let out the air too??? Brainless.\" -- Helium is slippery and leaks easily, like hydrogen. Usually a leak is gradual. You carry reserves. But they are finite, so with a compressor, you use plain ole air, which doesn\'t run out. Smart!
@Slowburn: \"If the small version is very much cheaper than a helicopter it may find a market.\" -- There\'s some interesting market studies looking at, for instance, cross-Atlantic freight options that are cheaper than airfreight and faster than sea. It\'s a matter of cost vs time, as you infer.
kellory
I know about helium, gentlemen. It has a smaller molacule and goes right through rubber ballons, that is why the good ones are mylar. You are missing the point. if it will fly with just air, then it does not gain that much lift from the helium. the helium would simply improve it\'s range and fuel efficiency. So a small leak is not a big deal. For it to be a big deal, would require a BIG HOLE! For it to NEED a redundancy system like that it would require a big hole. pumps and compressors add to the overall wieght, ALL THE TIME, not just when needed, So that would cut down on the efficiency of the helium, if it has to be backchecked with pumps or compressors. And a BIG HOLE is just as deadly with air as with helium!