The High Speed Solar Airship (HSSA) is a high-flying airship concept that proposes using thin-film solar panels and other off-the-shelf components to create a cost-competitive, high speed vessel for cargo hauling. The airship has no fuel costs, since it uses 67.2 kW of solar panels, and it capitalizes on the fast winds of the Jet Stream to boost speeds on with west-to-east transport — flying at 30,000 feet, the airship could reach daytime speeds of 182 MPH and even continue flying at night with a speed of 165 MPH.
Using an envelope with expandable gas cells will allow the airship to go from sea level to an altitude of 30,000 feet. This puts the airship above bad weather and also provides a clear, unobstructed environment for the solar panels. The colder temperatures at high altitude can also help boost energy production from the solar panels by up to 30%.
The Jet Stream contributes significantly to the airship’s speed (at least on west-to-east runs) — speed projections for the HSSA are based on utilizing a 96 MPH average windspeed. Even without tailwinds, the HSSA could still be faster than trucks when traveling west, although the most efficient routes will follow high altitude wind patterns. This could allow the HSSA to claim some of the $222.4 billion annual truck shipping business, particularly for long-haul routes.
So far, the inventor has done some limited flight testing with a 1:20 scale model. The proposed vehicle specifications include a cargo capacity of 120,000 pounds (60 tons) from a ship 320 feet long and 220 feet wide. The estimated price for the HSSA is $5 million.