JP Aerospace is a volunteer-based organization dedicated to achieving affordable access to space. They have been hired by the U.S. Air Force to provide concepts to allow rapid launch of battlefield communication and monitoring systems.
JP Aerospace was founded by John Marchel Powell, familiarly known as "JP", and Michael Stucky and Scott Mayo. (ref original JPA meeting minutes 1977) Since its inception, JP Aerospace has had a special interest in lighter-than-air flight. Their stated purpose is achieving cheap access to space. JP Aerospace has uniquely chosen inflatable, buoyant components as a primary means of propulsion as opposed to standard rocket propulsion.
The group entered as a contestant in the Space Frontier Foundation Cheap Access to Space (CATS) Prize in the late 1990s. An unsuccessful suborbital space launch attempt using a rockoon (balloon-launched high power rocket) was covered by CNN at the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada in May 1999. The CATS Prize expired without being awarded in November 2000.
Since then, JP Aerospace has worked with a number of clients interested in launching cameras into the upper atmosphere via balloons, including The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Toshiba (for their 2009 television commercial Space Chair). Their Tandem vehicle set the airship altitude record of 95,085 feet (ca. 28,982 m) on October 22, 2011.
The inflatable architecture incorporates three separate components to achieve orbit. This is primarily due to the different constraints on airships in the lower atmosphere versus the constraints on airships in the upper atmosphere. The full course of the process involves the Ascender, the Dark Sky Station, and the Orbital Ascender.
The Ascender airship operates between the ground and the Dark Sky Station at 140,000 feet (ca. 42,672 m). It is built to withstand the environment of the lower atmosphere. Higher wind speeds would prevent an airship large enough to remain buoyant in the orbital environment from operating in this region.
Flight of this vehicle is achieved through a combination of buoyancy and aerodynamic lift driven by propellers designed to operate in a near vacuum.
Currently JP aerospace has developed two large-scale test models, the Ascender 90 and the Ascender 175. The number denotes the length of the airship, in feet (ca. 27.4 m and 53.3 m). The final version will be operated by a crew of three and can transport passengers or cargo.
Dark Sky Station
The Dark Sky Station is an intermediate phase allowing transfer of cargo or personnel between the Ascender stage and the orbital stage. Additionally it would function as a permanent, manned high-altitude station which could be used for reconnaissance, telecommunications, or high altitude construction. Due to the design of the Orbital Ascender around the orbital environment, it would be constructed at the station.
The final flight phase would travel from the station to orbit using the Orbital Ascender airship. Because of the thin atmosphere at such high altitudes, this craft will have to be over a mile long to remain buoyant. It would operate as a lighter-than-air craft from the station at 140,000 feet to 180,000 feet (ca. 42,672 m to 54,864 m). At this point it would begin to accelerate using electric propulsion. Employing orbital dynamics, it will slowly increase velocity to orbital velocity, lifting it up to the appropriate altitude.
Twin Balloons Airship
On October 22, 2011 the Twin Balloons Airship made by JP Aerospace flew to 95,085 feet (ca. 28,982 m) as the New Airship World Altitude Record. The unmanned tandem airship flew nearly 4 miles higher than any airship before and is provided with 2 electric motors, each spinning a propeller.
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