The thin film solar cell technology and advancements in lightweight materials have started to cast their impact in every field. One interesting project called “Starlight” seems to have made use of all these technologies to create a perfect low cost solution for high altitude services, which engineers have been trying to achieve for long. StarLight is a joint project between, Global Near Space Services (GNSS) and Bye Aerospace of Denver, to build an unmanned high altitude airship powered by the sun. The project has tremendous applications for both, government and private organizations. The project claims per hour cost less than one tenth the cost of present high altitude airships require.
The excellent aerodynamics and low weight composite materials ensure performance as well as durability to stand the strong winds and rough conditions. The airship can remain in the stratosphere for four months with a good control from the ground. It just takes few hours to assemble and launch this incredible airship. The project is in development and Phase one and Phase two of the project was conducted under the supervision of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Aircraft Division. We can soon see a subscale fight demonstrations being planned by GNSS and Bye Aerospace.
In terms of operation, the StarLight can provide satellite like telecommunication and high altitude surveillance capabilities and that too at a very low cost, which will be a great relief to both commercial and federal customers. The ship can be equipped with advanced technologies like wide area sensors and communication systems. With all this, there will a vast variety of applications all sectors can utilize. The military can use it for thermal reconnaissance, boarder surveillance and Government can use it in variety of civil applications like traffic control, power line or pipeline inspection and fire detection etc.
These are a few services, which we expect to obtain from this high altitude airship with least effect on the environment. The StarLight is just a single hint about the revolution in the technologies emerging in space explorations.