Feeds

German strato-sperm airship prototype flies

Robot tadpole zeppelins aim for the wind bucket

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A 111-foot unmanned, sperm-like airship prototype - which uses long-forgotten tech from the 1930s golden age of the zeppelin - has completed initial flight testing, according to its makers.

The STS-111 unmanned airship in test flight above Germany. Credit: Sanswire-TAO

Cutting-edge German wriggleblimp technology in action.

Sanswire-TAO, a partnership between Sanswire of Florida and TAO Technologies GmbH of Stuttgart, intends to develop so-called "stratellite" droid dirigibles able to hover for long periods in the relatively calm "wind bucket" found between 65,000 and 70,000 feet up. This avoidance of the usually punishing stratospheric winds would allow much less fuel to be burned while maintaining position. The resulting long endurance and large area beneath covered by line-of-sight would allow the robot strato-ships to compete with satellites as communications relay platforms - hence the "stratellite" tag.

The STS-111 model whose initial tests were announced by Sanswire-TAO yesterday is an intermediate step towards the eventual stratocraft, intended for use at lower altitudes as a military surveillance platform. Flight tests had been predicted for the summer, but in the event none were carried out until this month.

The unique tadpole-esque appearance of the TAO airships comes from their "segmented" design, said to allow them to flex with wind gusts and so avoid the control and structural issues which can plague more conventional lighter-than-air craft.

Apart from segmentation, the other main trick offered by TAO is the "unique weightless Fuelgas system", though in fact it is far from unique. The same technology was employed successfully aboard the famous Graf Zeppelin airship liner of the 1930s, which ran on a similar gaseous fuel called Blaugas.

"Fuelgas" or the zeppelin's Blaugas are simply gas fuels mixed to have the same density as air, stored in cells within the ship's hull instead of hydrogen or helium lift gas. The old Graf filled up to a quarter of her hull with Blaugas; in the STS-111 only the "head" segment holds helium, the tail is full of fuel. As the fuel weighs the same as the surrounding air, its buoyancy supports its own weight - it is effectively weightless. As it is burned in the ship's engines, its disappearance doesn't make the ship lighter as would be the case with normal liquid fuel.

This is good news, as it means that the ship needn't vent off lifting gas to maintain neutral buoyancy as a flight goes on. This meant that the Graf Zeppelin didn't need to top up with hydrogen at poorly-equipped airfields, and will mean that TAO's tadpolecraft don't require frequent replenishments of expensive helium.

"We are convinced that the segmented design of the STS-111 and its long-endurance fuel gas powered propulsion system addresses unique security needs that require extended-duration station-keeping," enthused Sanswire CEO Captain David Christian in a statement issued yesterday.

"The commercial STS-111 is designed to stay aloft for more than two days, which gives it a definitive advantage over currently deployed, expensive, fixed-wing drones in intelligence and surveillance missions."

That may all be so: but it would seem that Sanswire-TAO have been beaten to the punch. Plans for a much bigger, "optionally manned" spy-ship of different design are already well advanced.

Sanswire aims to hold a public demo of the STS-111 at Florida's Orlando Sanford International Airport in "early 2010". ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.