Getting to orbit from Earth’s surface requires you to get above the atmosphere and moving at about 8 kilometers per second (km/s) relative to the Earth. The above the atmosphere part is the easy bit, but most rockets still lose about 2 km/s of their acceleration to air resistance and to hovering against gravity before they’re going fast enough that they don’t need to hover any more.
A good enough airship can lift you up above almost all of that air resistance, and it can take care of the work of hovering for you while it’s at it. And there’s another benefit too. Our most efficient rockets are things like ion thrusters, which save lots of fuel but only put out a little bit of thrust compared to their weight. If the airship is carrying the weight, you can use more efficient rockets that only need to put out enough thrust to beat air resistance instead of pushing hard enough to pick up the entire rocket.
So why doesn’t NASA use airships? The easy answer is that highest we’ve ever sent a balloon, let alone an airship, is about 50 km up. 50 km is still in the stratosphere which still has quite a lot of air to get in the way, particularly if your rocket is the size of an airship. But there’s still hope.
Exobiotanica: Botanical Space Flight by Makoto Azuma.
Collina Strada Yuma Tank.
A 50-year-old bonsai soared through outer space last month, and may still be orbiting. Tokyo-based artist Makoto Azumasent the conifer (from his personal collection) and an orb of orchids into the stratosphere, riding on the coattails of helium balloons launched from the Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach,…
It all started when I decided to back a Kickstarter project by JP Aerospace. They basically send experiments small enough to fit in a ping pong ball to the edge of space to see how the vacuum affects them. They were raising money to send a thousand experiments created by school children into space at the end of this month.
I loved this idea. I loved it so much I asked if I could participate too! So now I’ve got my id number and I’ve spent the last month thinking hard on what I want to do. My experiment will be on popcorn and space.