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Re: I have an idea. Please read

On Sun, 11 Jun 2000, Bob Bruninga wrote:

> I'm all for exploring the design of an orbiting aricraft.  Engineering
> such a problem is FUN!
> With GPS on the oribter and on the re-fueler drone, and Line-of-sight
> low power 2.4 GHz camera video, it woiuld be "trivial" to do an in-flight
> refueling.   THus drastically simplifying the design...   Hummh...

Actually, if you stick with a solar-powered vehicle, there is no
need to refuel, so using a conventionally powered engine (gas or
any other liquid fuel) should be selected out of the design process.
Given the flying controls of any sort of conventional aircraft, and
the need to handle them, unless you design in an autopilot, then
you're either going to have to keep a staff of "pilots" on a
ground control set-up 24/7, so you need something that is easier
to fly. That would seem to point towards something along the lines
of a blimp or other lighter-than-air vehicle. The fligt speeds are 
enough, and the changes in altitude less driven by control surface
inputs than an ordinary airplane, that the resulting autopilot
should be simpler to impliment. A solar-powered blimp might not
be doable, though, as there would be a need for a semi-rigid
platform for the solar cells, so a dirigible seems to be the answer.
A lighter-than-air vehicle capable of carrying, say, 600 lbs. off
the ground shouldn't be too large. A hot-air balloon can carry
that much easily, and they aren't exactly the most efficient
design in the world. About the only consumable, the item that would
limit the amount of time such a vehicle can remain on station,
would be the slow leakage of the lifting gas, and if some design
margin is built in, that should allow a vehicle to stay on station
for several months between service stops. Say, two vehicles in
the program, you have sufficient resources to keep one in place
and have the other one in for servicing and any repairs/upgrades
you might shoose to do. Three vehicles would give you this plus
an 'insurance' vehicle in case of a major failure or loss of a
vehicle sue to accident or other problem.
 The idea isn't as strange as it soulnds. There was an article
recently in "Aviation Week and Space Technolgy" that talked
about such a concept while discussing a new company that is looking
to build semi-rigid vehicles for hauling oversized/overweight
cargo (up to and over 1 million/lbs) around the world.
 Whether AMSAT might be interested in doing something like this
on a limited basis is open to question. My bet would be no,
because it doesn't fit with what 'everyone knows' is AMSAT's
 Too bad, it might be kinda neat.......

> Even with a continuing source of fuel though, I doubt any hobby motors
> would last long enough to be practical.  
> de WB4APR, Bob
> ----
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