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NASA floats million-dollar airship prize for 20-20-20 vision

Balloons wanted: must stay 20km high for 20 hours and return 20kg payload

By Richard Chirgwin, 10 Nov 2014

NASA is toying with the idea of a million-dollar-plus prize to encourage people to develop high-altitude airships for atmospheric research.

According to its request for expressions of interest, the aeronautical agency wants ideas from industry, individuals and educational institutions.

The “20-20-20 Airship Challenge” requires at least that the airship be able to reach a 20 km altitude, maintain that altitude for 20 hours, stay on-station within a 5 km diameter, and successfully carry and return a 20 kg payload (with its data intact, naturally).

A higher tier would stay on station for 200 hours and carry a 200 kg payload.

A successful airship design would be attractive because it could carry bigger payloads and collect more data than a stratospheric balloon, at far less cost than satellites. “Airships could offer significant gains in observational persistence,” the post notes, as well as offering more data link capacity and better payload flexibility.

Right now, NASA is looking for comments on the competition before December 1. ®

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