NASA Holds Contest for New ’20-20-20 Airship Challenge’ Idea

The US space agency NASA has unfolded a new contest or challenge for developing airships that can break records in terms of duration of flight at high altitudes called: “20-20-20 Airship Challenge”, which stands for 20 km height, 20 kg payload and 20 hours in flight.

With an aim to achieve unprecedented airship milestones, NASA said in a statement, that it is not looking for just powered balloon-like vehicles used in sporting events but one that can travel with air currents and stay in one spot.

Since the focus is on the stationary nature of airships that allows them to have better downlink capabilities for a constant line-of-sight communication with potential for scientific and commercial uses and help researchers to conduct mid-air experiments.

airship_challenge_rfi_web_slide“We are seeking to take astronomy and earth science to new heights by enabling a long-duration, suborbital platform for these kinds of research,” said Jason Rhodes, astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The competition is in the form of two tiers. The first tier would be to get an airship with a 20-kg payload to stay at an altitude of 65,000 feet for 20 hours.

The second tier of the competition is for more ambitious ship-builders who can aim for the airship to fly at the same height but carrying a 200-kg payload for 200 hours.

The second tier is slightly difficult as no powered airship has been able to sustain this altitude for more than eight hours, they said.

Some weather balloons do fly at 65,000 feet but they are not static and subject to prevailing winds and may be less reliable.

The last date for submission of entries for the “20-20-20 Airship Challenge” is Dec 1.

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The challenge indicates that NASA is in development to spur innovation in stratospheric airships as a science platform. “We anticipate a million dollar class prize for the first organization to fly a powered airship that remains stationary at 20km (65,000 ft) altitude for over 20 hours with a 20kg payload.”

Airships (powered, maneuverable, lighter-than-air vehicles) could offer significant gains in observing time, sky and ground coverage, data downlink capability, and continuity of observations over existing suborbital options.

“We seek to spur private industry (or non-profit institutions, including FFRDCs and Universities) to demonstrate the capability for sustained airship flights as astronomy and Earth science platforms,” said NASA in its statement.

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