Gallery: Solar-Powered Airship Could Offer Emissions-Free Cargo Hauling


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.

+ High Speed Solar Airship


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  1. outsider April 17, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    Let’s play with some figures. Any estimates for running costs? That $5 million price tag looks like a mistake, but it means all R&D would have to be paid for out of another budget.
    Let’s assume it could cover (at average speed of 165 mph/250kph)at least 3000 km/day in 1 direction. Let’s go metric and approximate 60 tons = 60 tonnes payload. If we achieve 50% air time per month, we could transport some 60 t 15000 km a month. If we take that optimistic 5 million price tag, and allow 10% ROI, it may cost a good $42000 a month to carry that cargo (omitting operational expense), which amounts to 4.6c per tonne-km. Add in op costs, and the freight charges may be close to 10c/tonne-km. I guess that is competitive with trucks. (?)

  2. Hybrid Pelta January 8, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Where is it etched in stone that a Cargo Carrier — for this is what I also envision as the most sensible first use of an Airship— must travel at high altitudes, or at high speeds, no matter how one defines them ?
    A vast amount of cargo is carried in slow speed, zero altitude barges or merchant vessels. The problems with the latter modality include :
    1. The necessity to wend one’s way up a sinuous waterway like the Mississippi River or locking one’s way through an arduous series of locks and gates on a canal. Airship : no problem !
    2. The incredibly complex set of regulations, certifications, manning and staffing requirements, and Jones Act restrictions on vessels made outside the United States, — but all seen as necessary for maritime on-the-water vessels, even as they are saddled with even more regulations of greater complexity.
    3. Airships : almost an iconic Garage Project. Technology is available as are new fabrics and treatment . Remote control and operation are available at hobby shops. Competent mechanics can rig a carry-hook for lifting and holding standard cargo containers .
    4. Given the new Remotely-Operated technologies now available, it is not necessary to saddle a cargo carrier, travelling below Federally mandated altitudes, with an on-board crew.
    5. Equipped with navigational aids like GPS, high-definition video cameras, and other remote sensing devices, cargo carriers carrying substantial loads can fly without a crew to the most remote areas of the earth — Polar, tropical, flooded, mountainous — much as military drones are now (January 2012).
    4. Surface ice on water does not impede travel, nor does it require huge, expensive full-crewed ice-breakers to clear a path for the cargo carrier.
    5. No, it does not go as fast as a jumbo jet cargo plane —- but neither does it require the extraordinary infrastructure of the latter — no runway building or maintenance, no air traffic control system or controllers, no replacement parts such as monumentally expensive tires, or carbon-based fuel, (if the power system and fuel choice are wisely chosen) no carbon particulate emissions — that’s why we recommend fuel cells
    6. We recommend electrically-powered engines ideally turning ducted fan props, in hybrid airships , utilizing both static lift from the lifting gas and dynamic lift using the Bernoulli Effect provided by air travelling at speed over a suitably curved surface) and using hydrogen as both a lifting gas and fuel for the Fuel Cell. We notice one of your correspondents is Marc de Piolenc, a stalwart veteran of airship technology and a pioneer in ducted fan research. He is an excellent resource in this area.
    7. Lack of an onboard crew also helps deflect Hindenburg-tainted concern about injury to crew when employing inexpensive hydrogen as both fuel (for the fuel cell) and lifting gas.
    8. Fly essentially from anywhere to anywhere, greatly simplifying supply-chain logistics.
    9. Sadly, these days, water-borne freight is subject to the hazards — long thought forgotten — of piracy and terrorists.
    Despite the fears of Know-Nothings, airships are NOT merely bags of gas that can be brought down by “… a fat, blind, old man with a pellet gun. This has been proven again and again.
    10. One of the major complaints when comparing the speed of airship travel to that of conventional airplane flight, as calculated by those who have not taken into account the whole picture — the Systems Approach — is that when we factor in the travel time to the airport, the new and ever increasing security measures, the scattered location of large airports, cargo restrictions, crowded traffic patterns, and many more issues along those lines, and then the similar constraints at the destination end, the apparent difference in travel times between the two modalities shrinks down to almost negligible .
    11. Dr. Barry Prentice, of Airships to the Arctic (now under the banner of ISO Polar) has been fighting the Good Fight in this regard for many years. We believe that he is — at last — being heard by shippers, users, airship builders, and governmental officials.

  3. callum December 6, 2010 at 5:15 am

    how much is it

  4. Airships Show Promise a... July 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    […] When it comes to the products we use every day — from food, to clothing, to household items — the fact that they are often shipped from all corners of the Earth means that they generally have a shockingly high carbon footprint. However former UK government chief scientific adviser Professor Sir David King believes that we can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of freight by re-employing a form of transport from the past – the airship. […]

  5. Mark Summers April 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Hello, this is Mark Summers, creator of this concept vehicle. I was gratified and suprised to discover this article out there. I had no idea ther was any interest in this concept. I created a simple site at:
    That goes over some greater details about the project.

    To answer a few questions:
    \”The biggest weakness of this concept is common to all high-altitude lighter-than-air concepts, namely the sheer size of the bag needed to hold enough gas to displace the necessary mass of very thin air.\”

    Thank you for your comments. The prototype you see in the photos actually was capable of flying with 1/2 of the envelope filled with helium, the other half air. Thats giving it a theoretical maximum altitude of (about) 25000 feet. It could fly with 1/3 helium, but was difficult to control at low speeds at that point. Also, its worth pointing out that late-war German WW1 zeps could fly about that high too, without the aid of modern composites.

    For James Bond:
    \”As long as you define cargo as one thin pilot and his small lunchbox, high speed as more than 10 mph, high altitude as above a few thousand feet and flying as something that you only do on calm sunny days, in the small print this could be a real investment gem. Almost as good a return possible as the old real Cargolifter fiasco in Germany, may their greenhouse project rest in peace.\”

    Excuse me, but you don\’t know what you are talking about. The prototype flew, and carried a simulated load equivelant to 2 ISO standard 40 foot shipping containers on the full-size model. Since capacity rises with the cube of scale, this is significant. As mentioned above, late war German WW1 zeps could fly at nearly 25,000 feet carrying 6 tons of bombs. Clearly, then, the objectives outlined for the project are possible.

    I will be the first to admit that the airship enthusiast community is full of people with unrealistic proposals, and you hear of many projects that seem to dissapear as soon as they try to build a prototype and realize the challenges inherent to the design. However, in this case, the prototype flew and demonstrated the potential of the project.

    The underlying design concept mitigates many of the failures of past prpojects you yourself bring up. A \”calm, sunny day\” is not required. Energy production is MUCH higher at the temperatures at 30,000 feet (I\’d call 30% higher conservative actually).

    That being said, I don\’t anticipate creating and operating the initial piloted model will be easy. There will always be challenges. But the design is solid, and it will work.

  6. heliumblimp April 19, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Hi again,
    I do not want anyone to mis understand what I said in that last post, in that I think solar powered airships are a great idea, New cargo or passenger airships are a wonderfull idea, high altitude airships are possible.Even high speed airships are possible in theory. The problem is that it most definitely is not possible to do all those things with only one new type of airships. The basic arithmetic does not add up. Also which proven airship design, construction and operating company is involved here?? I hope it is not another computer graphics only web site virtual world investment orientated companies that seems to attract visitors from the SEC after a short while.
    Regards Bond, James Bond (

  7. ThomasGoodey April 19, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Well put, Bond. It’s a con.

  8. Jamesbond April 18, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Hi folks,
    This new idea for high speed, high altitude, solar powered cargolifter airships is the ultimate investors dream. You can say such a design could be used for anything at all. Eg Cargo or passengers, Fuel free greenies ferry service, HAA, Hybrid airship and military jobs. You name it, this is the way ahead!!
    As long as you define cargo as one thin pilot and his small lunchbox, high speed as more than 10 mph, high altitude as above a few thousand feet and flying as something that you only do on calm sunny days, in the small print this could be a real investment gem. Almost as good a return possible as the old real Cargolifter fiasco in Germany, may their greenhouse project rest in peace.
    See. &
    Bond, James Bond.

  9. piolenc April 17, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    This is better than most of the visionary airship ideas coming out lately, in that it has some contact with physical reality. The use of the jet stream to provide most of the speed-over-ground is ingenious, provided of course that Nature cooperates. The biggest weakness of this concept is common to all high-altitude lighter-than-air concepts, namely the sheer size of the bag needed to hold enough gas to displace the necessary mass of very thin air. This problem has defeated all attempts to date to build dirigible airships for high altitude. The inventor mentions “expandable gas cells” without offering further details. Too bad, because these are the crux of the concept. If they exist and really work, they’re an engineering breakthrough. If they’re vaporware…

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