Arizona-based PhotonFlightTeam has unveiled plans for a lightweight, solar-powered airship that would be a more sustainable and cost effective alternative to airplanes. The team is raising funds with a newly launched IndieGoGo campaign that would allow them to test the prototypes and proceed to more advanced stages of design.

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Since fuel-powered airplanes release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the team is proposing a new emission-free solution that merges existing technologies. Their proposal is conceived as a combination of a jet, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome geometry, and a solar power generator. The first design phase would consist in flattening recycled aluminium into light-weight rigid panels in the shape of equal-lateral triangles. The panels would then be assembled into a geodesic dome-like structure, making up the outside shell of the airship. The top portion is then covered in solar cells. By creating a larger surface, the design allows for much more solar cells to be mounted on the vehicle then with traditional airplanes. The structure is then filled with helium, equipped with small wings and tail for steering. Unlike other airships, having only one central cabin, the solar-powered airship would have several ground contact points, thanks to its width. The cabins would be like small boats attached to the bottom. With small propellers located on the sides, the airship would become more maneuverable than the traditional blimp models.

The project proposal has already been submitted to the European Union “Clean Sky” FP7 initiative. The team has invited people of various disciplines to help: students that would built a one-man solar blimp, a company that already builds small blimps for NASA, and researchers using Computational Fluid Dynamics to study new broad airship shapes.

The plan is to build a small, radio-controlled prototype that would show the new design advantages. The next step would be flying a one-man solar-powered airship across the country. By testing the prototype, the team hopes to get enough information and funds to build a three-man airship that would fly around the world.

+ PhotonFlightTeam IndieGoGo Campaign