Commercial Curiosity Reveals High-Flying Volunteer Space Program

By Scott Spangler on December 5th, 2011

Curiosity often costs me a lot of sleep. Tonight I saw that TV commercial about the guys who captured some cool, outer space video using a weather balloon. So Google and I went looking for them. I found JP Aerospace. I don’t know if they did the commercial, but the volunteer-based, do-it-yourself space program offered a lot of cool video and stills on its website.

Here the JPA Tandem Airship maneuvers at 95,085 feet on 10.22.2011.

This is part of JP’s ATO—Airship to Orbit—program. It’s a cool, innovative three-part program that promises low-cost, bulk access to space. Part I is the atmospheric airship that climbs to 140,000 feet.

This work is going on now. Related to it are the PongSat missions, which carry student experiments that fit inside a ping pong ball. Since 2002, JP Aerospace has flown more than 4,000 PongSats to the edge of space at no cost to the 12,000 students (or their schools) who created them.

Part II is the crewed Dark Sky Station, parked at 140,000 feet. These way stations to space will be the construction facility for the large orbital vehicle. Part III is a huge “airship/dynamic vehicle” that reaches orbit directly.

When constructed, the initial test item will be 6,000 feet long. Its  buoyancy will carry it to 200,000 feet. From there, electric propulsion, several generations advanced from the system shown above, will slowly increase it speed, causing it to climb to orbit over several days.

This is, without a doubt, the coolest aerospace project I’ve come across in years, and it restores my hope for the future. They may not reach their ultimate goal in seven years, but they are going for it, and working within real-world constraints.

If you’re wondering what product the TV commercial was advertising, I’m afraid I can’t help you because I don’t remember anything more than the flight of the suborbital airship. But if you need to lift your aviation spirits, check out JP Aerospace. –Scott Spangler

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