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Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism

Posted by: sanman - Sun Mar 07, 2010 7:58 pm
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Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism 
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Post Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Sun Mar 07, 2010 7:58 pm
If you wanted to build a realizable "space hotel", then why not just do the next best thing and float it in the upper atmosphere, and let "space tourists" visit it by traveling there by balloon instead?

Let's face it - the average tourist isn't going to notice a huge amount of difference while looking out of a porthole at 40 miles up as compared to looking out of one at 100 miles up.

Fine, you wouldn't be an official astronaut, but a stay in this kind of hotel would be a whole lot more affordable than a stay on the ISS.

Remember, with tourism it's the "wow factor" that gets them. They could do EVA's -- or at least watch onboard staff do them -- and enjoy seeing all kinds of "near space" stunts that embody the coolness of outer space.

And just imagine what an incredible view they would get of the big blue earth below as a backdrop. Imagine a giant floating palace that would have really giant viewing ports, so that people could drink in the beauty of the blue earth against a black void filled with stars.

There could be all kinds of astronomy-related activities, since they'd have a fabulous view of a perpetually-night sky, and staff could give lectures about space, technology, astronomy, etc. College student groups could go up there on field trips, just like govt-sponsored trips to Antarctica. It could be the modern successor to the planetarium. If we can't even come up with a way to improve the planetarium, then how can we come up with ways to improve space access?

Think like a tourism operator for a moment, and see the potential to give people a strong taste of outer space even without actually taking them all the way to outer space. Think of it as a "near space" hotel, or a "suborbital cruise".

Imagine a giant floating "near space" platform that was capable of supporting 40 people comfortably for over a week. You would allow people to live there in the same manner as if they were on an actual space station, to give them the full astronaut experience (alright, minus the weightlessness, which might prove to be less than fun anyway for those prone to vomiting and nausea.) Tourists would get to wear astronaut flight-suits, drink dehydrated Tang, etc, etc.

From that altitude, you might even be able to offer premium tourists a "descent ride" aboard a shuttle-like glider or parachuted-capsule that would give passengers a taste of what a re-entry is like.


A floating "space hotel" of this type should be well within the realm of existing engineering technology, and it then really comes down to a question of financing, cost, revenue model, etc - the hard business stuff.

But hey, if it gets off the ground, you could eventually sell out to Disney Corp after a few years!


If you had the opportunity to shape such a venture, then what kind of tour activity agenda would you suggest, to give customers the most memorable experience possible?


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Sun Mar 07, 2010 11:04 pm
Have you come across JP Aerospace?

They are building things like you describe, as way stations to orbit.

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Post COTS+EPCOT   Posted on: Sun Mar 07, 2010 11:56 pm
I was actually going to post this in the JP Aerospace forum, but decided not to. I thought they were genuinely trying to achieve orbit in an airship, which I think is impossible.

The thing is then, what kind of gas envelope would be required in order to float a platform that could sustain 40 people for a week?

Also, more ideas:

You could station this thing somewhere over Florida, home of Disneyworld and the Kennedy Space Center.

The "space hotel" could also double as a research station, and perhaps do contract work for NASA when it comes to evaluating the performance or behavior of items in near-space conditions. This could be provided for under the COTS program.

Having the same interior aesthetics as a real space station, it could be constructed in modular style to allow for scalability. For periods of greater booking demand, additional modules could be floated up to expand capacity. Or else you could bring the whole thing down to add modules on the ground and then float it back up again.

Like an EPCOT Center, the "space hotel" could feature some "space age" technology concept ideas perhaps contributed by design students or artists.

The platform could also serve as a telecom relay, providing high-speed broadband services to mobile users.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:59 am
this idea is something JPA and some other groups are looking at, but not on the scale you're talking about. there's several pretty serious issues with what you're proposing. also, a "near space" EVA consists of falling to earth, which is far less interesting than a space walk, but almost as awesome. if you haven't seen the video of the near-space skydive from ~200k feet performed in the 60s, that is mandatory viewing material. i don't remember the name of the guy who did it, but he's awesome. broke the sound barrier in free fall. but back on point, people will be very hard pressed to live in near space for a variety of reasons for more than a day or possibly a week at a time. and it won't be affordable enough for college trips either, though if rich people want to spend lots of money for their kids to learn at 100k ft i guess they can do so. so yeah, great idea for unmanned outpost with ATO model (which is definitely possible but far from ready), great idea for short stay + awesome skydive, not so great idea for extended-duration hotel.

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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:21 pm
TerraMrs wrote:
if you haven't seen the video of the near-space skydive from ~200k feet performed in the 60s, that is mandatory viewing material. i don't remember the name of the guy who did it, but he's awesome. broke the sound barrier in free fall.


http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... le%3Atrue#


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:56 pm
TerraMrs wrote:
i don't remember the name of the guy who did it, but he's awesome.

lol awesome is probably the biggest understatement to describe Joe Kittenger
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Excelsior
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Kittinger

his record still stands at 102800ft. Though he is helping with the Red Bull Stratos project that will send Felix Baumgartner falling form 120k ft
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Baumgartner

tried to watch the video you posted johno, but apparently i cant here at work :P

but back on topic... :)

I'm not entirely up to date on JPA's goals and plans, so if this follows along what they are aiming for let me know, lol

but in thinking of sanman's proposal, I like that idea of a high altitude research station. add on a large telescope, and capability to launch sounding rockets, atmospheric/weather research, pysiological/medical reasearch.... doubling as a comm relay station would probably be a way to help fund it. one problem i can see htough, would be station keeping. solar powered fans? would small ion-type engines work at that altitude?

Having it on the scale of 40 people may be a stretch, but build it to support maybe 5 or 6 researchers for 'long' duration, and the ability to have short duration visitors/researchers, and it might be more feasible
kind of like if it were a mini-ISS... just... lower, lol

I know i've probably just reiterated what evryone here has already said, and for that i appologize, but i guess its my way of agreeing :)

Does sound like a great project though.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Mon Mar 08, 2010 7:17 pm
Yeah, you should be able to gather nearly as much solar power as if you were in orbit, when you're above most of the atmosphere like that. Your balloon envelope could be coated with a photovoltaic material.

Electrostatic propulsion (aka. "lifter") technology would be good for stationkeeping/maneuvering. This is when you have charged plates which turn the surrounding air into a flowstream.

I'd be inclined towards a large donut/innertube sort of shape for the balloon, and your station would be multi-story structure sitting right in the middle where the donut hole is. That way you could be able to look straight up/out at the stars, or look straight down/in at the Earth (from that altitude, you'd still be able to see the curvature of the Earth and the backdrop of stars even looking below). The innertube shape should give the necessary stability to it.

I guess the docking point would be below, but that would require some engineering of the approach vehicle to be able to mate with it. Docking from above might be dangerous, as a failure could endanger the entire station.

But yeah, having a space telescope onboard would be awesome!


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:39 pm
Here's the propulsion system I was talking about:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_wind

It generates a propulsive flowstream of ionized air using charged plates.

Furthermore, in the upper atmosphere the UV ionization should also contribute a natural abundance of ions, which would reduce energy expenditure.

Since the name "SkyLab" is already taken, we'd have to come up with some other name.

StratoStation?
HighPoint?
TopSite?
FarBase?


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:18 pm
sanman wrote:
Here's the propulsion system I was talking about:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_wind

It generates a propulsive flowstream of ionized air using charged plates.

Furthermore, in the upper atmosphere the UV ionization should also contribute a natural abundance of ions, which would reduce energy expenditure.

Since the name "SkyLab" is already taken, we'd have to come up with some other name.

StratoStation?
HighPoint?
TopSite?
FarBase?


How about "Blue Marble Waystation" ?

On the ion propulsion thing any idea how efficient one would be at 50km or a 100km? or as you have mentioned a lot of what air there is at those heights would already be ionised would it be more efficient to accelerate existing ions magnetically for thrust using a simple linear accelerator ?

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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:39 am
Well, with ion wind propulsion, you use your charged plates to both ionize the air molecules into ions and then make them flow. So the higher percentage of air is already in the form of ions then the less energy you have to expend to ionize it.

Other useful properties of upper atmosphere ("near space") - you've got lots of solar radiation up there, which you can harvest by coating your balloon surface with photovoltaics.

So you've got an abundance of energy, as well as a medium to use for propulsive purposes. Haha, that's more than most real spaceships can hope for!

So if you want, imagine the upper boundary of the Earth's atmosphere as the surface of a pond, and these "near space" ships would be sailing/swimming around on that. Maybe we are now becoming like the first amphibians, poking our noses out of the surface of that water and looking towards the bodies of dry land that will be our future.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Fri Mar 12, 2010 8:24 pm
Hmmm. There's already a thread on this... created by me :)

I'd go with an egg shape, and have the hotel single story in between the hemispheres. With plenty of windows of course, so that the tourists can see space and Terra.

I'd also have it around 20-25km up intead. Much better lift, and you don't get much difference in view.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:47 pm
But this implies 2 hemispherical balloon envelopes, which is not an easy shape to maintain. Plus the whole thing might want to tip over and rotate.

My innertube/donut shape is more stable, both pressure-wise and gravity-wise.

Hmm, I know - we could call it the "Ring Station" or the "Space Ring" 8)

Maybe it could be an international collaboration, like the ISS, but it would be for the ordinary masses to visit, as well as research.

With ion-wind propulsion, it could then shift from one region to another, traveling around the world to showcase space-age living to people all over.

And just imagine - this thing would be so large that it would be visible in the sky! So ordinary people on the ground would be able to see this thing and marvel at it.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Sun Mar 14, 2010 7:23 pm
Quote:
But this implies 2 hemispherical balloon envelopes, which is not an easy shape to maintain. Plus the whole thing might want to tip over and rota

No. It's shaped like an egg, with the top hemisphere taller than the bottom one - in 2D you'd have a semi-circle attached to a semi-oval. The top half, being bigger, has more lift, acting to keep the station stable. Pressure can easily maintain the shape.

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And just imagine - this thing would be so large that it would be visible in the sky! So ordinary people on the ground would be able to see this thing and marvel at it.

How big do you want to make this? If it's visible at all, it would be like an extra star. You barely see planes, and this thing would be double the altitude and around the same size (lengthwise). A 100m diameter sphere, by the way, has a volume of just under 523599 cubic meters. Somewhere between 20-25km up, the air density is 1/20 of that at sea level. At sea level, Helium can as a rule of thumb lift 1kg. So our balloon can lift 26 tonnes, roughly, disregarding the envelope. If you use Hydrogen, you increase that, so you can probably have all 26 tonnes as payload since the increased lift will compensate for the envelope. With a sphere half thee ize, diameter 50m, we get a smidgen over 3.25 tonnes.

Space is not an ocean - but nearspace kind of is.


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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:16 pm
I think Sanman was suggesting if you build something like this in the atmosphere it should be bigger than the space station and after all as it relies on air displacement you actually get an advantage from building bigger as the mouse-elephant surface area to volume ratio analogy works towards your advantage the bigger you build. as at these heights you could get the odd meteor piercing your balloons i would think a modular structure like Belgium's Atomium

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomium

Would be an interesting way to do something like this or even better a large scale recursive buckyball of buckyballs with buckytubes connecting them designed in such a way that if individual components failed they could be replaced and re-inflated from carried spares. Have array large telescopes on the top 5 or 6 balls living and support hanging from other balls it could be self supporting in energy as being above most cloud you could have predictable solar and i think materials tech is good enough to do a 25 km proto space elevator for small loads all we need is a billionaire who would like a room with a view and who can write some of it off as blue sky science funding :twisted:

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Post Re: Floating High Altitude Platforms for "Near Space" Tourism   Posted on: Mon Mar 15, 2010 12:49 am
Maybe the light weight of graphene would afford you the possibility of many smaller envelopes, like a cluster of grapes. Actually, even that might be overkill, and all you'd really need is 2 or 3 independent balloon envelopes.

Remember, this thing would be floating 40km up, and so if it lost half or a third of its buoyancy, then it would just float a lot lower, but it wouldn't crash into the ground. Just design it to tolerate one balloon failure, with one or two others remaining to shoulder the load.

I think you just mainly want to ensure that the 3 flotation envelopes don't all line up along a single axis for a meteor to take them all out at once.

The other thing is that by having multiple envelopes, you could make each of them differently, to specialize them for different purposes. You could have one on top mainly specialized to collect solar energy, you could have one on either side to specialize in generating ion-wind propulsion, etc.


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