The revival of the airship: Cargo transport today, sky resort tomorrow?

Before the infamous Hindenburg disaster put an end to the airship era in 1937, lighter-than-air zeppelins were slated to become the future of transportation.

That vision was put to rest for the better part of a century, but today several companies are intent on reviving airships to carry incredibly heavy cargo payloads with increasing levels of success.

Airships offer advantages over other forms of cargo transport. Their value lies in their weight capacity, paired with the ability to land almost anywhere without the need of an airstrip or ground crew. This feature reduces costs and increases efficiency, allowing for quicker loading and unloading.

Airships can travel long and treacherous distances, landing in near-unreachable areas to deliver goods and supplies.

An American company called Aeros is one of the forerunners in the modern airship movement. It launched a high-tech cargo airship called the Aeroscraft last year.

Aeros’s prototype is able to carry payloads of up to 60 tonnes. The company is now developing a ship that will more than double this weight.

The airship was designed through a partnership with DARPA and NASA. It can achieve a vertical takeoff and landing with no ground support, operating through a helium tank.

aeros1

With these high-tech capabilities, airships have the potential to revolutionise transport in a number of fields.

Aeros foresees using the Aeroscraft to deliver heavy cargo to hard-to-reach locations, transporting disaster relief supplies and aiding military transportation.

UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles is another leader in airship technology. The company is currently in the process of designing two different airships.

One of the prototypes is focused on endurance. It is able to stay airborne for 5 days at a time, conducting surveys and research, providing communications outlets and acting as a surveillance platform.

The second is a heavy-lifting airship similar to the Aeroscraft that can land on nearly any surface, making it optimal for disaster relief and the gas, oil and mining industries.

Airships set themselves apart from typical cargo planes because of the ability to land almost anywhere without the need of an airstrip or ground crew. This feature reduces costs and increases efficiency, allowing for quicker loading and unloading.

In addition, airships present a more environmentally friendly alternative to plane transport because they need less fuel to operate and fly at a lower altitude, producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

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As hybrid airship technology continues to develop, so will the uses for it. These companies already foresee using their ships to globalise world markets by quickly transporting products like fresh fruits and vegetables to revolutionise daily cuisine.

They also haven’t forgotten the airship-era dream of cruising the sky for pleasure, maintaining that one day airships will allow people to enjoy the amenities of a resort or a cruise in the clouds.

Of course, the airship tragedies of the past cannot be forgotten, but these companies are incorporating advanced safety features into their prototypes to ensure their reliability. One day soon, we will be able to fully realize the potential of the airship technology that was all but abandoned last century.


Featured image courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles, body images courtesy of Aeros.


DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”