Aviation History, Part III

Airships have been proposed as a potential cheap alternative to surface rocket launches for achieving Earth orbit. JP Aerospace has proposed the Airship to Orbit project, which intends to float a multi-stage airship up to mesospheric altitudes of 55 km (180,000 ft) and then use ion propulsion to accelerate to orbital speed. At these heights, air resistance would not be a significant problem for achieving such speeds. The companyhttps://www.athlearn-hs.jp/
http://dnsanta.com/ has not yet built any of the three stages.

NASA has proposed the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept, which comprises a series of five missions including manned missions to the atmosphere of Venus in airships. Pressures on the surface of the planet are too high for human habitation, but at a specific altitude the pressure is equal to that found on Earth and this makes Venus a potential target for human colonization.

The advantage of airships over airplanes is that static lift sufficient for flight is generated by the lifting gas and requires no engine power. This was an immense advantage before the middle of World War I and remained an advantage for long-distance or long-duration operations until World War II. Modern concepts for high-altitude airships include photovoltaic cells to reduce the need to land to refuel, thus they can remain in the air until consumables expire.

The disadvantages are that an airship has a very large reference area and comparatively large drag coefficient, thus a larger drag force compared to that of airplanes and even helicopters. Given the large frontal area and wetted surface of an airship, a practical limit is reached around 130–160 kilometers per hour (80–100 mph). Thus airships are used where speed is not critical.

The lift capability of an airship is equal to the buoyant force minus the weight of the airship. This assumes standard air-temperature and pressure conditions. Corrections are usually made for water vapor and impurity of lifting gas, as well as a percentage of inflation of the gas cells at liftoff. Based on specific lift (lifting force per unit volume of gas), the greatest static lift is provided by hydrogen (11.15 N/m3 or 71 lbf/1000 cu ft) with helium (10.37 N/m3 or 66 lb