Nasa’s roots, Worden said, are in aeronautics and helping develop new industry. Working with Airship Ventures, whose 246-foot (75-meter) helium-filled Zepplin is based at Moffett Field outside San Francisco, Nasa has concluded that hovering airships are a valued tool for climate studies, earth science and astrophysics research.
They also fit the bill for a major new Nasa initiative - developing “green aviation” that puts fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than cargo jets, Worden said.
Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said the state is a “ready-made market for airship technology.” Alaska has 200 villages off the road system that need lower-cost cargo deliveries. Airships also could provide alternative transportation for industries that want to cross environmentally sensitive wilderness.
Industry expert Ron Hochstetler, who helped organise the conference, said airship cargo delivery is not competitive with trucks on interstate highways or cargo ships. Airship cargo’s per ton cost fits between cargo airplanes and surface transportation.
The industry is at a tipping point, Hochstetler said. Airship cargo technology can deliver tens of tons, and customers have indicated that they are interested, but both sides need to connect on specifics.
“We’re bringing that market closer and closer to the providers of the ships and the services,” he said.
Holy eff airships are going to be an actual thing that gets used for cargo. We are living in the future.
Also, I seriously hope that this kind of tech can bring down the cost of living in remote northern communities. That might be kind of overly optimistic. But when you look at a place like Attawapiskat (where there’s no port and only ice roads during the winter, so during the summer it’s only accessible by air, and even then large planes don’t service it) then it seems like a pretty feasible transportation alternative.
Although helium is going to get pricey really fast if this starts being a widely used thing. We don’t have very much of it.