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October 2006 edition

High Altitude Airship looks to create its own space

By Dan Cook

Its designers say it is a “great marriage” of old and new technologies.

But Lockheed Martin’s unmanned High Altitude Airship (HAA), which will hover on the edge of space for up to a year, is pushing the envelope of airship design.

The HAA, developed for the US Missile Defence Agency, is still at least five years from production, and the prototype will not fly for at least two. But the estimated $100m programme, if the U.S. government funds it to completion, will usher in a new era for airships.

Each HAA will be able to survey 750 sq. miles of the earth’s surface from its perch at 60,000 feet (20km). It will stay in a “geostationary” position – orbiting with the earth to stay “still” above an imaginary fixed point on the ground. This allows it to communicate with stationary communications devices on the ground, which would be unable to focus their antennae on a “moving” target.

Advantages

Of course, satellites already do all this. The HAA’s advantage, however, is that it is closer to the ground, and so able to “see” much more, and in greater detail.

Isaac Porche, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, told Airframer: “Airships have always been a tough sell [in Congress]. There aren’t too many reference points. But what are the fixed wing alternatives, as sensing and communications relay platforms? The Global Hawk - but it’s expensive to manufacture.”

The other advantage of the airship platform will be that it “stays up there” and is less vulnerable to malfunction and attack, whe....

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