Anti-Terror High Altitude Airship Project Moves into Third Stage

20 February 2006

In December, Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors (Akron, OH) received a contract to build a prototype of the High Altitude Airship (HAA) that has been in the planning stages for several years. The $149.2-million award by the US Missile Defense Agency marks the beginning of the program's third phase, which is to culminate in the prototype’s delivery and flight in 2009. The unmanned, near-space (planned operational altitude of 60,000-70,000 feet) HAA is intended to be part of the US’ domestic anti-missile and anti-air defense structure, filling the altitude “gap” between airplanes and satellites. Employing both advanced fuel cell and solar power array technology to produce power, it will also be able to provide enhanced weather and high-altitude imagery information to a variety of users. Its potential use in telecommunications – as sort of a very low altitude “satellite” – is almost unlimited.

At altitude, the HAA would command a view of an area nearly 600 miles in diameter. According to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, HAA is to have an endurance of one month at 65,000 feet, carry a payload of at least 500 pounds, provide at least 3 Kw of continuous power, have a cruise speed of 25 knots, and station-keeping accuracy of less than 2 kilometers 50% of the time and less than 150 kilometers 95% of the time.

In September, 2003, the Missile Defense Agency had awarded Lockheed Martin a $40-million design and risk- reduction contract at the beginning of Phase 2 of the HAA development. The prototype design concept at the time was larger than what is now being built, 500 feet long and with a volume of 5.2 million cubic feet vs. the current prototype size of 400 feet in length and a volume of 3.7 million cubic feet. Lockheed Martin had previously received one of three $2 M contracts from the MDA for HAA Phase 1, which was to develop an airship that could stay aloft for 30 days while providing 10 KW of power to a 4,000-pound payload. Once built, it was to demonstrate launch and recovery, station-keeping, and flight-control capabilities with different mission payloads. Phase 2 was conducted by Lockheed Martin and concluded with the Critical Design review in late 2004. It included fabric and propulsion testing, hull design, and manufacturing procedures testing. According to Katharine Dunlap, spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Communications & Public Affairs, the final step in Phase 2 was the construction and successful testing of a 12,000 cubic foot volume aerostat. During Phase 2, over 40 fabrics were designed, produced, and tested to determine the airship’s best “skin.” An airship – being lighter than air and containing buoyant gas – must be both light enough and strong enough to fly in a variety of weather conditions. In addition to fabrics, the propulsion, power, pressurization, and envelope components have been designed and tested, and are ready for prototype build. Subcontracting for the program is StratCom International LLC (Keedysville, MD). Dunlap noted that the City of Akron, The Summit County Port Authority, and the State of Ohio are active supporters of the program to rebuild and update the Airdock, a historical building built in 1929 and measuring 1,175 feet long, 325 feet wide, and 211 feet high. Last used to assemble the US Navy’s ill-fated airships of the 1930s, it has been a long time since it was involved with any vehicle of this size.

Lockheed Martin is now acquiring subsystem elements which are being staged in the Airdock for assembly into the prototype. The hardware and the airship’s envelope are under construction, with first inflation set for mid-2007 and first testing in 2009. Under the current contract, said Dunlap, one HAA prototype will be built.

After Phase 3 testing has been completed, the Missile Defense Agency has the option to conduct an Extended User Evaluation Period Phase 4 for up to a year to continue its evaluation of the HAA as a military vehicle. The price tag for the HAA program has not yet been established.

While DOD has not yet indicated the total potential number of airships it will want, The North American Aerospace Defense Command has projected that 10-11 airships could provide surveillance coverage of the continental US coastlines and southern border. Lockheed Martin’s expectation is that a fleet of 10 to 15 would represent an initial production quantity, according to Dunlap.

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