SkyLifter airship may one day carry buildings (w/ Video)

October 5, 2010 by Lin Edwards, report

SkyLifter with Global Nomad hotel module.
( -- An Australian aeronautical company is developing a giant balloon that will one day be capable of carrying payloads more than seven times the maximum load carried by a heavy cargo helicopter. The inventors hope the balloons will be able to carry disaster relief centers and even modular hospitals into remote areas.

Unlike the traditional cigar, oval or spherical shape of airships and balloons, the SkyLifter balloon is a discus shape (150 meters (500 ft) in diameter and is driven by specially-designed propellers in a control pod suspended from the helium-filled aerostat balloon space. The company says the design makes it easy to steer in different wind conditions because the shape is directionless.

The Voith-Schneider propellers resemble paddle wheels, but with hydrofoil-shaped blades. Increasing the rotation speed increases thrust, and adjusting the angle of the blades changes the direction of the thrust, so the propellers deliver power and steering simultaneously. There will also be a buoyancy control system inside the to assist in moving the vehicle in the vertical axis.

Moonlight in the clouds

The “flying saucer” design eliminates the problems of downdraft and handling difficulties caused by the huge rotors of cargo helicopters. On descent the shape acts rather like a parachute, giving the pilot much greater control. The shape also enables it to carry fragile, bulky or heavy loads of up to 150 tonnes, and possibly more, for distances of around two thousand kilometers. Top speed is expected to be 45 knots (around 50 mph).

The airship could provide a solution to the problem of accessing remote disaster areas, which are often regions with poor roads and few, if any, airstrips or rail connections. Heavy cargo helicopters have limited payloads, which means equipment must often be dismantled and reassembled on site, wasting precious time, and their range is considerably less than the SkyLifter.

Vikki was the project name for the creation of an 18 meter diameter tethered aerostat in a similar shape to the SkyLifter design. A bespoke winch system was used to raise and lower the aerostat and a pod was slung below. The short video above shows the making of Vikki.

The SkyLifter is currently at prototype stage, and the company has already produced an 18 meter (60 ft) version, named Vikki, without an engine, and a fully-functional three meter prototype nicknamed Betty, which can carry a payload of 0.5 kg (around 1 lb). Prototypes 23 meters (Nikki) and 150 meters (Lucy) in diameter should be launched within the next three years.

In the more distant future a SkyPalace version may be considered for luxury air cruising, but the company is also brainstorming many other potential applications.

Explore further: Up, Up and Away with Aerobots

More information: SkyLifter

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1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
150 tonnes of water (one trip's worth) would be enough to cover the entire year's indoor water use of about two industrialized households for an entire year (if I've calculated correctly) and represents a cube of water that is 5.31 meters per edge.

Assume many flights per year. Assume the destination is a village of climate controlled pod habitats and greenhouses which can minimize evaporation and recapture evaporated moisture as a biproduct of air conditioning. Now put this colony in the Sahara at a location where it is more rocky than sandy. You could produce food or biomass while using the colony as a base from which to prospect for mineral wealth.
3 / 5 (3) Oct 05, 2010
Doesn't mention the maximum altitude per mass of payload. If it's intended for remote areas, it needs to be able to deal with mountain ranges, which have historically been problematic for air ships.

Still, this is my kind of invention.

Given the fact we are fast going to be running out of oil, a significant portion of commercial aircraft for transport both of people and goods will eventually need to shift back to the air ships, or else use pure hydrogen powered engines.

With the new composite materials that are going to become commercially available over the next decade or so, we may eventually see airships far larger than this become mainstream.
5 / 5 (6) Oct 05, 2010
Given the fact we are fast going to be running out of oil,

Yes, and we're also running out of Helium... I think we really should be moving to Hydrogen airships. I would hope that the containment technology has improved since the Graff Zeppelin and its rocket-fuel skin around Hydrogen gas.
4.7 / 5 (6) Oct 05, 2010
one day will be able to tell our gran'kids that we inhaled this rare expensive gas just to make funny voices! ignorance is truly bliss
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 05, 2010
by that time they might have developed a giant graphene skinned balloon with vacuum instead of gas and a nanotube ribbed structure to deal with the compressive forces, not an easy feature , but just think of the incredible volume/density ratio, Archimedes would be proud, if it could be constructed it could lift tons to the edge of space
2 / 5 (8) Oct 05, 2010

ahh i think u miscalculated something


water 1g / cm^3 @ 5 celcius
1 liter = 10 cm^3
1 m^3 = 1000000 cm^3

so if your cube is 5.31 meters per edge then u have 5.31m^3 = 5310000cm^3 and 1g per cm^3 = 5310000 g of water = 11,706.5 pounds

1 ton = 2k lbs so 5 tons of water ( reality 1 ton = 2k lbs but 1 tonnes = 2.2k lbs )

in reverse 150 tonnes of water = 330693.4 pounds

330693 lbs = 150,000,000 grams ( sorry i am american i do everything in pounds first )

150000000 g of water is 150000000 cm^3 of water @ 5 celcius

150000000 cm^3 = 150m^3

so 150 tonnes of water can be held in a cube with sides 150 m each, or about 493 feet long.

How much water do u use?
4 / 5 (4) Oct 05, 2010
There goes all my faith in American math and geometry education.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
was there a mistake?
4.3 / 5 (4) Oct 05, 2010

Your math is definitely wrong.

A liter is a cubic decimeter, which is 1000 cm^3, not 10 cm^3.

1m^3 = 1000 liters

150000000 cm^3 = 150m^3

so 150 tonnes of water can be held in a cube with sides 150 m each, or about 493 feet long.

Wrong. I don't know why people on this forum, consistently screw up a 4th grade math problem.

150 tonnes is the same as 150 cubic meters of water = 150 m^3.

Not 150^3 m^3...

If the volume is 150 m^3, then the length of an edge of the cube would be the cubed root of 150, or:

(150m^3)^(1/3) = 5.31329 meters.

Which is exactly what Sean_W posted, only I went to 3 decimal places precision.
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 05, 2010
my apologies you are right my math is wrong but only my final statement - all my numbers are right except 1 liter = 10 cm^3 and the conclusion in feet. 150 m^3 was the correct answer I FAILED in thinking the last equivalency through and got sloppy i never put 150^3 m^3 - you put that - unfortunately that - but you are right i should have used the cube root to determine the side length - and i messed up coming and going - apologies to Sean_W
5 / 5 (5) Oct 05, 2010
apex01: You said: "I'm not saying that hydrogen doesn't explode with O2 but hydrogen gas doesn't have much energy anway, right?" I have to correct you on that. Hydrogen has much more specific energy than other common fuels. As an example (in English units, hydrogen has about 61,000 Gross BTU/lb while Acetylene has about 21,500 BTU/lb). A lot of that has to do with the molecular weight of hydrogen having more molecules per pound than Acetylene, but the result is that if you have hydrogen in air it will cause a serious fire and explosion. In power plants they use compressed hydrogen for heat transfer in the generators. If you hear about an explosion at a power plant it is either a transformer or a hydrogen explosion. They are not uncommon. Hydrogen explosions are spectacular (having seen a few). Do not underestimate the danger of hydrogen gas.
4 / 5 (2) Oct 05, 2010
A few things:

@thermodynamics: Yes, but... hydrogen at ambient pressure has relatively low energy content by volume.

@apex01: Yes (the Hindenburg outer skin was actually painted with a variant of thermite, probably ignited by a static electric discharge with the atmosphere) but... Hydrogen is a very challenging material to handle in general. It can be corrosive, nearly impossible to 100% contain, and may be dangerous to the ozone layer of the atmosphere.

@Husky: While a vacuum would be maximally buoyant, I don't think even graphene can withstand that much pressure. To approximate: at 14.7 psi and 250ft radius, 14.7lbs * 3.14159 * (250ft * 12in)^2 = 415,632,357 pounds of force at 1 atmosphere.

I am not a huge fan of hydrogen as an energy carrier, but it probably is the best lighter than air ship gas. The materials are key though.
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
I was thinking about how to use vacuum buoyancy, wonder how big and thin a diamond bubble containing a vacuum could be, how long would it last, and could you fill the inside of a ship with some geometric shaped bubble "stack".

And to clarify, the estimate is for one approximately circle shaped top/bottom surface. I guess from the inside both sides would be squeezing with about 2x the force, approaching 831 hundred million pounds.

not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
I saw this article on about a week ago. Probably one of the more interesting articles I've seen in a while. Its good to see that "old" technologies can still be reinvented with a little ingenuity.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
... I guess from the inside both sides would be squeezing with about 2x the force, approaching 831 hundred million pounds.

I assume the word 'hundred' got in there by mistake. Also I believe the real answer is more like 415 million pounds. You don't need the 2x. When you stand on a scale it only reads your weight even though the bottom of the scale is being squeeezed.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 06, 2010
You know, I was just thinking why doesn't NASA use something like this as a heavy lift vehicle. Take the load up as high as it will go, then launch a rocket from there, sort of like that rich guy is doing from Virgin Galactic with his space plane launch vehicle.

Also how hard would it be to leave something like this in the air? I am sure if you made it big enough it could have a launch platform and enough space to have a tether on board for lifting from the ground.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
For the hindenburg case, ignition by "thermite" is not plausible because a thermite mixture, even when properly mixed which the paint was not, has to be heated to the melting point of aluminium over a relateively large area before it ignites. A simple static spark won't do that.

You basically need a fire going on already before the thermite will ignite, which means that either the cotton canvas is burning, and/or leaking hydrogen is burning, and the leaking hydrogen is the most likely to ignite from a static spark.

One theory is that there was a structural flaw with the Hindenburg, with the canvas electrically disconnected from the frame, which caused it to act like a huge capacitor for static electricity, and the static outburst actually happened between the outer shell and the inner gas bladders and their steel frames when the mooring ropes touched the ground, and that made the hole and started the fire.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
"You know, I was just thinking why doesn't NASA use something like this as a heavy lift vehicle"

The idea of balloon-launched rockets has been around for some time: http://en.wikiped.../Rockoon

But the rockoon concept has some serious limitations (see link) that has led NASA to focus on other air-launch-to-orbit systems like Pegasus: http://en.wikiped...(rocket)
1 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2010
I wonder at what wind speed would the ship lose the ability to hover over one spot, which would limit its usefulness.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010

Area of a circle (Pi*r^2): If one surface in square inches is 3.14159 * (250ft * 12in)^2 = 28,274,310 or about twenty eight million square inches...

At about 14.7 lbs per square inch, that is 395,840,340 or about three hundred ninety six million pounds.

I think the "hundred million" is correct.

As for 2x, you might be right, not sure. If you place a scale on it's side and push with your fingers on each side with one pound of pressure, does the scale register one pound, or two?

I've seen for two cars that hit head on at the same speed... kinetically each car can't tell the difference between the other car and a wall...

So I guess the scale registers one pound, so struts inside a vacuum disk wouldn't see 2x the force.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
Oh wait, I see, 3.95 hundred million. Heh.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
Doh, typed 14 instead of 14.7 into Google, so not 3.95, 4.15, sigh.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2010
I can see a spike in UFO reports if this thing gets off the ground...
not rated yet Oct 12, 2010
This has to be the first article in a long time where people have corrected math mistakes and been almost nice about it... I hope the trend lasts

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