Moffett Field will house world's largest airship


NASA Ames Research Center announced an agreement on Wednesday to house what is said to be the world's largest airship in Moffett Field's Hangar Two.

NASA says the airship, called the Bullet 580, will not only be the world's largest, but the world's greenest. Its engines will run on biodiesel fuel made from algae.

The airship is being constructed by E-Green Technologies, which is based in Alabama. The company has signed a three-year lease starting Jan. 1, 2011. It will share Hangar Two with the world's longest airship, the Zeppelin Eureka.

The "envelope" or outer skin of the airship has already been constructed, and the rest will be developed once it is delivered to Moffett, NASA Ames officials said in a press release.

The $8 million airship will be able to fly at high altitudes almost four miles up, reach a speed of 80-miles-per-hour, carry a payload of 2,000 pounds and stay aloft for 48 hours, the company claims.

At 235 feet in length, it is still dwarfed by the airships of the 1930s, such as the 784-foot USS Macon once stationed in Moffett's Hangar One. But the airship is likely to receive as warm a welcome as the Zeppelin Eureka enjoyed when it moved to Hangar Two in 2008. And while its overall size (65 feet wide) may make it the largest, the Zeppelin Eureka is longer at 246 feet.

The company hopes to break records and perceptions about airships with the Bullet 580, which it has called a sort of "truck in the sky." It is designed to carry a payload the size of a small car inside its inflatable outer skin. The envelope is only one-sixteenth of an inch thick, but the company claims it is 10 times stronger than steel as it is made of the sort of Kevlar used in bulletproof vests.

Unlike the Zeppelin, the Bullet 580 is a blimp with no internal frame to keep the envelope rigid. It also differs from the Eureka in that it doesn't require a pilot, as it is being designed to allow remote controlled flight as well.

What could such an airship be used for? A wide variety of things, the company says, such as acting as a "surveillance platform" to monitor oil spills, volcanic eruptions, a battlefield or the Mexican border. It can also fly at very high altitudes for long periods of time serving as a "stratellite" for broadcast communications.

And it's cheaper to operate than a helicopter or airplane, the company said. A 125-foot prototype has already been flown.

In a press release, Ames director Pete Worden touted the deal.

"This partnership takes advantage of Ames unique infrastructure to develop green aircraft and other green technologies," Worden said. "The EGT partnership will bring new jobs and skills to NASA Research Park and stimulate collaboration among EGT and the more than 70 on-site industry, university and non-profit partners."

Ames officials have also said they have several airship companies lined up to become tenants inside Moffett's iconic Hangar One if it can be restored.

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