In the past few years, there has been a surge in new designs of airships utilising the latest advances in materials technology and other aeronautical engineering sciences. However, since the lifting capability of airships diminishes rapidly with altitude, they have not been widely considered as relevant to space technology development.
Investigating the possibilities of High Altitude Platform (HAP) designs of very large airships is a the focus of a OUST research project. Various designs of such vessels could be used as the first phases of a pipeline to space. Different designs of craft could be used variously as specialised takeoff platforms, landing platforms, transfer vehicles and general service and support vehicles.
If these vehicles are to be used in very large numbers, supplying such craft with helium as a listing gas may be prohibitively expensive. In that case, understanding the safe use of hydrogen as a lifting gas will be an important aim of this research.
It is anticipated that much of the pipeline to space will be entirely autonomous, hence the systems employed will have such strict failsafe requirements as manned vehicles, however it is hoped that the system will be capable of putting at least astronauts and other trained personnel into space.The reliability and safety of hydrogen airships used for the autonomous service will determine whether manned operations are possible with hydrogen or whether helium is necessary.
There is a tradition in spaceflight that crew safety should always be the number one priority on any mission and OUST will never compromise on that.