Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles

A special issue of Aerospace (ISSN 2226-4310). This special issue belongs to the section "Aeronautics".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2023) | Viewed by 26024

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Aerospace Science and Technology, Politecnico di Milano, Via La Masa 34, 20156 Milano, Italy
Interests: electric aircraft; hybrid-electric aircraft; hydrogen-powered aircraft; aircraft preliminary design; airship; LTA; aerospace sensors and systems; aerospace instrumentation systems; UAS; flight testing
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Aerospace Science and Technology, Politecnico di Milano, via La Masa 34, 20156 Milano, Italy
Interests: aircraft design; electric aircraft; hybrid-electric aircraft; optimal design; aircraft modeling and simulation; airship design; wind turbine control
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce the present Special Issue of MDPI’s Aerospace devoted to novel studies related to lighter-than-air (LTA) flying vehicles. LTA vehicles are gaining the attention of the industry, thanks primarily to the improvement they offer in terms of endurance in flight and ease of operation (ground infrastructures) compared to fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft. Furthermore, they cope in principle very well with fully electric or hybrid-electric power-trains, since less energy and power should be needed with respect to other flying vehicles to fly an assigned mission.

This Issue aims to collect the outcomes of current research in the field of LTA vehicles, with two particular focal points: the first is on mission study, including novel possible missions for LTA vehicles, the negotiation of specifications, comparisons to other flying machines (also in terms of ground equipment), etc. This shall trace a map of the most likely missions that could potentially be covered by LTA vehicles, accounting for current technology. The second focus is on preliminary design: in principle, electrification enables some advantages, such as an increase in endurance and the achievement of novel control configurations based on thrust vectoring, but an increase in weight may result from the adoption of batteries or other electric components, thus requiring trade-off analysis to select the most promising design solutions. Developing on this focus may produce a knowledge base supporting industrial design processes.

Prof. Dr. Alberto Rolando
Dr. Carlo E.D. Riboldi
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • lighter than air
  • airship
  • mission design
  • scenario study
  • mission analysis
  • balloon
  • electric
  • solar power
  • hybrid-electric
  • fuel-cell
  • hydrogen
  • helium
  • electrification
  • operation
  • ground support
  • ground infrastructure
  • hull design
  • preliminary design
  • sizing
  • lofting
  • unmanned LTA
  • unmanned vehicles
  • low atmosphere
  • deployment
  • stratospheric missions
  • attitude control
  • motion prediction
  • simulation
  • optimal sizing
  • automated sizing

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Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

25 pages, 16913 KiB  
Article
Development and Evaluation of an Enhanced Virtual Reality Flight Simulation Tool for Airships
by Mohsen Rostami, Jafer Kamoonpuri, Pratik Pradhan and Joon Chung
Aerospace 2023, 10(5), 457; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10050457 - 15 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1868
Abstract
A real-time flight simulation tool is proposed using a virtual reality head-mounted display (VR-HMD) for remotely piloted airships operating in beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) conditions. In particular, the VR-HMD was developed for stratospheric airships flying at low/high altitudes. The proposed flight simulation tool uses the [...] Read more.
A real-time flight simulation tool is proposed using a virtual reality head-mounted display (VR-HMD) for remotely piloted airships operating in beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) conditions. In particular, the VR-HMD was developed for stratospheric airships flying at low/high altitudes. The proposed flight simulation tool uses the corresponding aerodynamics characteristics of the airship, the buoyancy effect, mass balance, added mass, propulsion contributions and ground reactions in the FlightGear Flight Simulator (FGFS). The VR headset was connected to the FGFS along with the radio controller containing the real-time orientation/state of each button, which is also simulated to provide better situational awareness, and a head-up display (HUD) that was developed to provide the required flight data. In this work, a system was developed to connect the FGFS and the VR-capable graphics engine Unity to a PC and a wireless VR-HMD in real time with minimal lag between data transmission. A balance was found for FGFS to write to a CSV file at a period of 0.01 s. For Unity, the file was read every frame, which translates to around 0.0167 s (60 Hz). A test procedure was also conducted with a similar rating technique based on the NASA TLX questionnaire, which identifies the pilot’s available mental capacity when completing an assigned task to assure the comfortability of the proposed VR-HMD. Accordingly, a comparison was made for the aircraft control using the desktop simulator and the VR-HMD tool. The results showed that the current iteration of the system is ideal to train pilots on using similar systems in a safe and immersive environment. Furthermore, such an advanced portable system may even increase the situational awareness of pilots and allow them to complete a sizeable portion of actual flight tests with the same data transmission procedures in simulation. The VR-HMD flight simulator was also conceived to express the ground control station (GCS) concept and transmit flight information as well as the point of view (POV) visuals in real-time using the real environment broadcast using an onboard camera. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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31 pages, 3510 KiB  
Article
Thrust-Based Stabilization and Guidance for Airships without Thrust-Vectoring
by Carlo E.D. Riboldi and Alberto Rolando
Aerospace 2023, 10(4), 344; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10040344 - 02 Apr 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1780
Abstract
The concept of thrust-based control without the employment of thrust-vectoring (TVC), already introduced in a previous work by the authors, is further developed in conjunction with an appropriate control suite, tasked with both artificial stabilization and beam-tracking navigation functions. In the paper, the [...] Read more.
The concept of thrust-based control without the employment of thrust-vectoring (TVC), already introduced in a previous work by the authors, is further developed in conjunction with an appropriate control suite, tasked with both artificial stabilization and beam-tracking navigation functions. In the paper, the fully non-linear mathematical model employed for testing the controllers in a virtual environment is outlined. Then a comparative approach is adopted in the analysis, where a standard tail-back airship with deflectable aerodynamic surfaces is employed as a baseline, and the performance of a four-thrusters layout with a thrust-based control and no TVC is assessed with respect to it. Featured test cases in forward flight include short climbs, abrupt turns, and multi-checkpoint navigation. The research supports the feasibility and adequate performance of the proposed thrust-based airship layout and control, and presents a critical analysis of the pros and cons with respect to the considered baseline airship configuration featuring standard aerodynamic control. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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18 pages, 3366 KiB  
Article
Analysis of Influence of Stratospheric Airship’s Key Parameter Perturbation on Motion Mode
by Jiwei Tang, Shilong Bai, Weicheng Xie, Junjie Wu, Hanjie Jiang and Yuxuan Sun
Aerospace 2023, 10(4), 329; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10040329 - 26 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1077
Abstract
The stratospheric airship is taken as the research object, and the motion mode analysis of the stratospheric airship is carried out. The influence of key parameters such as the center of mass, the center of buoyance, and the aerodynamic stability moment on the [...] Read more.
The stratospheric airship is taken as the research object, and the motion mode analysis of the stratospheric airship is carried out. The influence of key parameters such as the center of mass, the center of buoyance, and the aerodynamic stability moment on the motion mode of stratospheric airship are analyzed and summarized in detail. According to the simulation and analysis results, unlike high-speed and high-dynamic aircrafts such as airplanes, the motion modes of the stratospheric airship are hardly affected by the perturbation of aerodynamic stability moment; the perturbations of the vertical center of mass and the vertical center of buoyancy have a great influence on the pitch pendulum motion modes, and their parameter perturbations affect the frequency of the pitch pendulum motion and also the stability of the pitch pendulum motion; the axial mass center location perturbation not only changes the damping of pitch pendulum motion but also affects the frequency of the yaw motion attitude motion mode to a certain extent. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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23 pages, 4636 KiB  
Article
Design of an Airship On-Board Crane
by Fatma Guesmi, Naoufel Azouz and Jamel Neji
Aerospace 2023, 10(3), 290; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10030290 - 15 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1244
Abstract
This paper presents the design and mathematical model of an innovative smart crane, CHAYA-SC, based on the principle of a cable-driven parallel manipulator, as well as its stabilization. This crane is mounted on the airship hold and intended for handling at altitude. Our [...] Read more.
This paper presents the design and mathematical model of an innovative smart crane, CHAYA-SC, based on the principle of a cable-driven parallel manipulator, as well as its stabilization. This crane is mounted on the airship hold and intended for handling at altitude. Our objective is to design a precise light crane that can be used for container loading or unloading, particularly in deep-sea ports. Thus, the model developed includes the oscillations as well as the transverse and longitudinal vibrations of the heavy cable supporting the load to be handled. The highly nonlinear partial differential equations (PDE) and ordinary derivative equations (ODE) that govern the motion of the system are obtained via the Lagrange equations coupled with a modal synthesis. So that the mathematical model of the system is compatible with control and real time, we developed a simplified dynamic model which proved to be equivalent to the complete model. As a first validation of the modelling, a simple control vector is applied to stabilize the airship and its load under the effect of a squall. Numerical simulations are presented at the end of the paper to show the relevance of the design. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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16 pages, 7778 KiB  
Article
Optimization Design and Experimental Verification for the Mixed-Flow Fan of a Stratospheric Airship
by Wei Qu, Wentao Gong, Chen Chen, Taihua Zhang and Zeqing He
Aerospace 2023, 10(2), 107; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10020107 - 21 Jan 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1424
Abstract
Large-flow, high-pressure fans are required to improve the shape-keeping and flight-height-adjusting ability of stratospheric airships. This study optimizes and analyzes a fan MIX-130 suitable for a stratospheric airship. Five design parameters are selected to optimize the fan’s static pressure rise and efficiency: impeller [...] Read more.
Large-flow, high-pressure fans are required to improve the shape-keeping and flight-height-adjusting ability of stratospheric airships. This study optimizes and analyzes a fan MIX-130 suitable for a stratospheric airship. Five design parameters are selected to optimize the fan’s static pressure rise and efficiency: impeller outlet installation angle, installation angle increment, blade thickness, diffuser tilt angle, and L16(45) orthogonal test for optimization research. Based on the optimization results, the fan is processed, a fan test bench is built to verify the accuracy of the fan numerical analysis method, and the fan’s performance curve in the stratosphere environment is given. The results demonstrate that after optimization, the static pressure rise in the MIX-130 fan increases by 47.5%, and the efficiency increases by 8%. The performance test data of the MIX-130 fan are consistent with the numerical analysis results. Furthermore, the flow pressure curve is significantly improved compared with the existing fan, satisfying the requirements of airship flight missions. The fan structure optimization and testing methods presented in this manuscript can provide a reference for designing and testing stratospheric airship fans. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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25 pages, 11151 KiB  
Article
Research on Trajectory Prediction of a High-Altitude Zero-Pressure Balloon System to Assist Rapid Recovery
by Jiwei Tang, Shumin Pu, Peixi Yu, Weicheng Xie, Yunfei Li and Binxing Hu
Aerospace 2022, 9(10), 622; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9100622 - 19 Oct 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2568
Abstract
A comprehensive simulation model is established to predict the trajectory of a high-altitude zero-pressure balloon flight system with no parachute that is required to carry the load floating at the designated altitude for several hours or less. A series of mathematical models, including [...] Read more.
A comprehensive simulation model is established to predict the trajectory of a high-altitude zero-pressure balloon flight system with no parachute that is required to carry the load floating at the designated altitude for several hours or less. A series of mathematical models, including thermal dynamic, atmospheric, earth, wind, geometry, and exhaust models, are developed to predict the trajectory of the balloon flight system. Based on these models, the uncertainties of the launch parameters and the corresponding flight performance are simulated. Combined with the control strategy, the entire flight trajectory is simulated and discussed in detail, including the ascending, floating, and descending phases. The results show that the vertical velocity takes on a W shape during the ascent process. Furthermore, the balloon begins to gradually descend with weakening solar radiation after noon. Moreover, the landing vertical speed of the balloon flight system can approach zero with the control strategy applied, whereas the lateral drift range is more limited relative to the uncontrolled flight mode. The results and conclusions presented herein contribute to the design and operation of a zero-pressure balloon flight system within limited airspace to improve the rapid recovery ability of the flight system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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24 pages, 3832 KiB  
Article
Filtering and Estimation of State and Wind Disturbances Aiming Airship Control and Guidance
by Apolo Silva Marton, José Raul Azinheira, André Ricardo Fioravanti, Ely Carneiro De Paiva, José Reginaldo H Carvalho and Ramiro Romankevicius Costa
Aerospace 2022, 9(9), 470; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9090470 - 23 Aug 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1517
Abstract
Good state and wind estimation is a requirement for the development of guidance and control techniques for airships. However, usually this information is not directly available from the airship sensors. The typical solution applies filtering, estimation and sensor fusion methods. This paper presents [...] Read more.
Good state and wind estimation is a requirement for the development of guidance and control techniques for airships. However, usually this information is not directly available from the airship sensors. The typical solution applies filtering, estimation and sensor fusion methods. This paper presents a comparative study, evaluating three solutions for the state estimation of NOAMAY airship. We also present alternative versions for the crucial estimation of the wind velocity, combining Kalman filters with a data-driven Neural Network. Finally, we present special solutions to usual problems encountered in filtering implementation as the mitigation of delays caused by second-order filters. The sensors set considered is composed of a global positioning system, an inertial measurement unit and a one-dimensional Pitot probe. Comparative simulation results are presented with the use of a realistic nonlinear model of the airship. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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29 pages, 2398 KiB  
Article
Layout Analysis and Optimization of Airships with Thrust-Based Stability Augmentation
by Carlo E. D. Riboldi and Alberto Rolando
Aerospace 2022, 9(7), 393; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9070393 - 21 Jul 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1682
Abstract
Despite offering often significant advantages with respect to other flying machines, especially in terms of flight endurance, airships are typically harder to control. Technological solutions borrowed from the realm of shipbuilding, such as bow thrusters, have been largely experimented with to the extent [...] Read more.
Despite offering often significant advantages with respect to other flying machines, especially in terms of flight endurance, airships are typically harder to control. Technological solutions borrowed from the realm of shipbuilding, such as bow thrusters, have been largely experimented with to the extent of increasing maneuverability. More recently, also thrust vectoring has appeared as an effective solution to ameliorate maneuverability. However, with an increasing interest for high-altitude airships (HAAs) and autonomous flight and the ensuing need to reduce weight and lifting performance, design simplicity is a desirable goal. Besides saving weight, it would reduce complexity and increase time between overhauls, in turn enabling longer missions. In this perspective, an airship layout based on a set of non-tilting thrusters, optimally placed to be employed for both propulsion and attitude control, appears particularly interesting. If sufficiently effective, such configurations would reduce the need for control surfaces on aerodynamic empennages and the corresponding actuators. Clearly, from an airship design perspective, the adoption of many smaller thrusters instead of a few larger ones allows a potentially significant departure from more classical airship layouts. Where on one side attractive, this solution unlocks a number of design variables—for instance, the number of thrusters, as well as their positioning in the general layout, mutual tilt angles, etc.—to be set according simultaneously to propulsion and attitude control goals. In this paper, we explore the effect of a set of configuration parameters defining three-thrusters and four-thrusters layout, trying to capture their impact on an aggregated measure of control performance. To this aim, at first a stability augmentation system (SAS) is designed so as to stabilize the airship making use of thrusters instead of aerodynamic surfaces. Then a non-linear model of the airship is employed to test the airship in a set of virtual simulation scenarios. The analysis is carried out in a parameterized fashion, changing the values of configuration parameters pertaining to the thrusters layout so as to understand their respective effects. In a later stage, the choice of the optimal design values (i.e., the optimal layout) related to the thrusters is demanded to an optimizer. The paper is concluded by showing the results on a complete numerical test case, drawing conclusions on the relevance of certain design parameters on the considered performance, and commenting the features of an optimal configuration. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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23 pages, 6289 KiB  
Article
Effect of Lifting Gas Diffusion on the Station-Keeping Performance of a Near-Space Aerostat
by Jun Li, Linyu Ling, Jun Liao, Zheng Chen and Shibin Luo
Aerospace 2022, 9(6), 328; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9060328 - 18 Jun 2022
Viewed by 1647
Abstract
During the long-endurance flight of a near-space aerostat, the characteristics of lifting gas diffusion have a great influence on the flight altitude adjustment and station-keeping performance. Thus, in this study, a lifting gas diffusion model and a dynamic model that consider thermal effects, [...] Read more.
During the long-endurance flight of a near-space aerostat, the characteristics of lifting gas diffusion have a great influence on the flight altitude adjustment and station-keeping performance. Thus, in this study, a lifting gas diffusion model and a dynamic model that consider thermal effects, which had not been studied in similar models before, were developed. The dynamic model and thermal model were validated by historic flight data, and the calculated lifting gas diffusion results were compared with the experimental data of other researchers. The variations in the flight endurance, flight altitude, lifting gas diffusion rate, and diffusion coefficient of a near-space aerostat were analyzed. The effects of the ratio of porosity to tortuosity and envelope radiation properties on the mass of the lifting gas and flight altitude were considered in detail. To analyze the effect mechanism of the ratio of porosity to tortuosity and the envelope radiation properties, the envelope and gas temperature, as well as the gas pressure, were studied. The results show that the lifting gas diffusion rate and diffusion coefficient are very sensitive to the change in the ratio of porosity to tortuosity and envelope temperature. The results obtained from the analysis of the lifting gas diffusion can lay a solid foundation for improving the flight performance of near-space aerostats and for providing improved design considerations for aerostats. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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20 pages, 3973 KiB  
Article
Modelling and Stabilisation of an Unconventional Airship: A Polytopic Approach
by Said Chaabani and Naoufel Azouz
Aerospace 2022, 9(5), 252; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9050252 - 05 May 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1832
Abstract
The paper presents the modelling and stabilisation of an unconventional airship. The complexity of such a new design requires both proper dynamic modelling and control. A complete dynamic model is built here. Based on the developed dynamic model, a nonlinear control law is [...] Read more.
The paper presents the modelling and stabilisation of an unconventional airship. The complexity of such a new design requires both proper dynamic modelling and control. A complete dynamic model is built here. Based on the developed dynamic model, a nonlinear control law is proposed for this airship to evaluate its sensitivity during manoeuvres above a loading area. The proposed stabilisation controller derives its source from a polytopic quasi-Linear Parameter varying (qLPV) model of the nonlinear system. A controller, which takes into account certain modelling uncertainties and the stability of the system, is analysed using Lyapunov’s theory. Finally, to facilitate the design of the controller, we express the stability conditions using Linear Matrix Inequalities (LMIs). Numerical simulations are presented to highlight the power of the proposed controller. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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37 pages, 2505 KiB  
Article
On the Feasibility of a Launcher-Deployable High-Altitude Airship: Effects of Design Constraints in an Optimal Sizing Framework
by Carlo E.D. Riboldi, Alberto Rolando and Gregory Regazzoni
Aerospace 2022, 9(4), 210; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9040210 - 11 Apr 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2426
Abstract
When ground observation or signal relaying in the vicinity of an unfriendly operative scenario are of interest, such as for military actions or disaster relief, high-altitude airships (HAA) offer some technical benefits. Featuring a milder cost and higher deployment flexibility with respect to [...] Read more.
When ground observation or signal relaying in the vicinity of an unfriendly operative scenario are of interest, such as for military actions or disaster relief, high-altitude airships (HAA) offer some technical benefits. Featuring a milder cost and higher deployment flexibility with respect to lower-Earth orbit satellites, these platforms, often baptized as high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS), operate sufficiently far from the ground to provide better imaging coverage and farther-reaching signal relaying than standard low-flying systems, such as aircraft or helicopters. Despite the atmospheric conditions in the higher atmosphere, they offer stable airstreams and highly-predictable solar energy density, thus ideally giving the chance of smooth operation for a prolonged period of time. The design of airships for the task is often conditioned by the need to go through the lower layers of the atmosphere, featuring less predictable and often unstable aerodynamics, during the climb to the target altitude. With the aim of simultaneously largely increasing the ease and quickness of platform deployment, removing most of the design constraints for the HAPS induced by the crossing of the lower atmosphere, and thus allowing for the design of a machine best suited to matching optimal performance at altitude, the deployment of the HAA by means of a missile is an interesting concept. However, since the HAA platform should take the role of a launcher payload, the feasibility of the mission is subject to a careful negotiation of specification, such that the ensuing overall weight of the airship is as low as possible. A preliminary design technique for high-altitude airships is therefore introduced initially, customized to some features typical to missile-assisted deployment, but with the potential for broader applications. The proposed procedure bends itself to the inclusion in an optimal framework, with the aim of seeking a design solution automatically. A validation of the adopted models and assumptions on existing HAPS is proposed first. The design of the airship is then carried out in a parameterized fashion, highlighting the impact of operative and technological constraints on the resulting sizing solutions. This allows for the marking of the boundaries of the space of design solutions for a launcher-deployable airship. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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16 pages, 4848 KiB  
Article
Multidisciplinary Optimization of Thermal Insulation Layer for Stratospheric Airship with a Solar Array
by Yang Liu, Ziyuan Xu, Huafei Du and Mingyun Lv
Aerospace 2022, 9(2), 83; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace9020083 - 03 Feb 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1837
Abstract
Stratospheric airships with a solar array have demonstrated overwhelming superiority in many aspects, such as earth observation, meteorological survey, and communication relay. The solar array supplies sufficient power for the airship to be in flight for months, but excessive heat is also transferred [...] Read more.
Stratospheric airships with a solar array have demonstrated overwhelming superiority in many aspects, such as earth observation, meteorological survey, and communication relay. The solar array supplies sufficient power for the airship to be in flight for months, but excessive heat is also transferred to the airship, causing high overpressure of inner gas. However, the optimal arrangement of the insulation layer on the airship has not been investigated. The theoretical method, including the geometry, thermal, and energy models, is developed and validated. The distribution of the temperatures and power of the solar cells, with different installation angles on the curved surface, is investigated. The thickness of insulation layer has a significant effect on the solar output power and internal pressure of the airship. An optimized configuration of the insulation structure is proposed, in order to improve the total output energy of solar array. The optimized configuration of insulations helps to reduce the structural mass by 24.9% and increase the payload mass by 9%. Moreover, the optimized arrangement improves the output energy of solar array in a year, and the maximum improvement is 8.2% on the winter solstice. The work displays the optimization of the thermal insulation layer for the stratospheric airship with a solar array, in order to improve the everyday energy acquirement during flight in a year. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mission Analysis and Design of Lighter-than-Air Flying Vehicles)
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