Team in Southern Alberta launches balloon up to 36 km above the surface of the Earth (SABLE-3)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Having grown up in Southern Alberta, it was nice to see this report on a group of people that have recently carried out a third balloon launch, apparently the most successful with a nice image right at the front of the Earth very far below, the thin atmosphere and the blackness of space just above.

I think my favourite image though is this one:

because it really shows the huge difference involved in sending balloons up versus using rockets. It's hard to believe that the balloon these people are holding is only a few minutes away from making its way up to 36 km above the surface of the Earth, one third the way to the boundary of space.

Apparently the launch got quite a bit of unexpected attention, with mentions on Digg, Reddit, Globe and Mail, Gizmodo, then an interview on the radio, etc. etc.

Okay, but eventually the atmosphere fades away and in the end you need a conventional chemical rocket to actually achieve orbit, right? Well, not exactly. Take a look at JP Aerospace's site to see how one can achieve orbit without a chemical rocket.

Here's the part of their pdf detailing the basic concept (metric added by me):

The first part is an atmospheric airship. It will travel from the surface of the Earth to 140,000 feet (42 500 metres). 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 (42 500 metres). 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 (1800 metres) long. The airship uses buoyancy to climb to 200,000 feet (60 km). From there it uses electric propulsion to slowly accelerate. As it accelerate it dynamically climbs. Over several days it reaches orbital velocity.


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