100% Solar Powered Thermal Airship
Generating lift & thrust only by solar irradiance; Sunrise is a thermal airship designed to accomplish aerial missions based on low speeds and long flight duration; such as, patrolling, filming, observations, expeditions, and recreational usage.

In order to use heavy and low-efficient photovoltaics; Sunrise use “Concentrated Solar Power” (CSP) to generate lift and propulsion. Constantly sun tracking “Fresnel Lens” inside hot-air ballon focus sunlight to heat up air, not only to create lifting gas, but also to fuel heat-driven “Stirling Engine” for propulsion. Extra energy is stored as heat in insulated ballon and as motion in “Flywheels Energy Storages”. Balloon rotates in 2axis to track sun constantly.

Aerostats are “lighter than air” (LTA) structures that do not require any energy consumption to stay airborne, as their neutral state is already floating in air. On the other side, winged aircrafts, named Aerodynes, need kinetic activity to generate the lifting force, which cause rapidly consumption of energy to stay airborne. Although Aerostats are more efficient, safe and the environmental friendly method of flying during long flights at lower speed, today, aerodynes are used in these kinds of missions due to the lack of suitable and accessible Aerostats.

The end of fossil-fuel-era is getting closer day-by-day; by asking if we need that much power/speed for all mobility scenarios. “Is it logical to use fuel-drinking noisy helicopters in a 5 hour shot aerial filming mission, or an airplane for sightseeing?”


Helium is the most efficient buoyant gas for airships; which is highly demanded by many other industries. At 2008 rates of consumption, Earth has only a 25-year helium supply. Although, Hot-air’s poor lifting performance (30% of Helium); sustainability of “solar heated hot-air” is the core of Airship Sunrise. Sunrise can be deflated everyday without any cost; which cancels the need of huge hangars that store non-deflatable helium airships. Addition to deflatable balloon; collapsible construction of Sunrize not only let minimum storage space; but also enables transportation of the aircraft by any means of transportation.

Sun Tracking System: A thin Fresnel Lens behind the transparent part of balloon, concentrates sunlight into a focus to create heat. Hot air in balloon is even more heated in focus point and sent to Power unit by a pipe. Fresnel Lens is always facing into sun by Sun Tracking System, which rotates balloon 90 in vertical and 360 in horizontal.

check the animation below:
check the animation below:
 

Power Unit: Stirling engine is an external combustion engine; working by the movement of the gas between cooler and heater compartments. As the heat difference between the compartments get higher, the efficiency of the engine get higher. The power unit use hot air heated by Solar Unit, to heat up the hot compartment; as cooling system reduce the temperature of the cold compartment.

check the animation below:

Energy Storage: Beyond being a buoyant device, the well insulated balloon also acts as Heat Energy Storage. This enables extra flight time for moments without sunlight. Any extra energy is then transformed into motion and stored in a Flywheel Energy Storage. To ascend or descend, a change in the forward propulsion up or down, respectively, is done. As in traditional balloons, this system removes the need to change the amount of buoyant gas during altitude adjustments.

Sunrise is fully rely on mechanical systems, which limit energy flow to increase efficiency. Opposite of today’s trend; it is not depended on fuelling the vehicle by electricity, which offers really poor efficiency on production; huge energy loss while storing in heavy batteries; and again offers a poor efficiency to take this energy back from battery.

Project Sunrise targets to pack the most simple, yet proven technologies to build an accessible flying structure for slow aviation.

These gentle giants of the sky is a perfect platform for Solar Power Applications. But all the existing concepts are based on using photovoltaics, which is not power-efficient, nor lightweight. Therefore; the power-core of the Sunrise’s is based on Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technics; which can generate tremendous amounts of heat. As state of energy is transformed into another each time (radiation, heat, motion, electricity), efficiency is dramatically reduced. (highest in electricity) Therefore fully mechanical power generator of Sunrise, keep all the energy transformations between heat and motion to minimize energy loss.

To minimize the performance issue of thermal balloons; Sunrise mix air inside to have a homogenous lifting-gas. In order to release/produce lifting-gas to descend/ascend, propellers move down/up. Propellers not only avoid lift-gas waste; but also grant perfect balance and maneuverability by high rotational momentum arms and the help of tail-rudder.

Solar powered transportation is a popular issue today. But under their artistic shells; most of the concepts actually offering extremely low levels of feasibility and efficiency; based on unproven technologies and unrealistic; even imaginary; materials. To avoid these kind of failures; the project is strictly built based on proven technologies and existing materials. Thin flexible Frensel Lens, Stirling Engine, Flywheel Energy Battery, Heat Energy Battery, which builds the core of the project, are all forgotten yet highly efficient technologies from distant past. But today, they are only used in niche applications, due to lack of investments for development. To be as close to reality; flight performance is defined by basic calculations. The concept was reviewed through the internet by engineers to evaluate its feasibility. After numerous visualizations through sketching, CAD modeling was used for designing and testing the structure and components.

Although the body of Sunrise can easily be built by today’s traditional production methods; it is designed as presented to offer a vision for the future’s bio-mimicric revolution, based on newly developing production methods such as Resin+fiber composites and Rapid prototyping. For ex: “Bones” representing highest strength with least material usage by varying its shape, density, structure in different parts. Of course it will take much more years to grasp the secrets of these structures which evolved in billion years; but new production methods let us get one more step closer to this target.

Notes…

Main dilemma of aviation is, “consuming more fuel to carry the fuel” The most promising approach to solve this dilemma is “Aircrafts without onboard fuel” which are constantly powered by external power sources, like laser or microwaves. It sounds like sci-fi, but many proven concepts are tested based on this, as u may see one example in my “Aurora Spacelines” Project. My target is to experiment this idea, by transforming it from “Rocket-science complexity” to “Steampunk simplicity”. Not laser, nor microwave; the most proven and accessible external energy generator is choosen: Sun.

WWII started by paper-like airplanes; then end in 6 years with jet-powered metal birds. Maybe the only good effect of WWII is leading a tremendous development of aviation, which mainly shape today’s accessible air-transportation. But the gentle giants of the skies; Airships paid the penalty of not involving to war with the lack of any development fund. Even today, LTA technologies are mainly based on the technology of 100 years ago. This situation may sounds like a disadvantage, but in another perspective it also offer great potential for exploration and development. I also believe that, as a naturally-flying-structure without any use of energy, LTA aircrafs have great potential as declining fossil fuels are creating more problem day-by-day.

Conclusion…

Sunrise is not a ultimate-flying-machine. It is build on the conditions of regions which has high solar radiance, and more dry weather. With its maximum predicted speed as 60km/h, it is like a flying snail. But it satisfy the demand on slow and long-duration flights, in the most clean, quite, safe and efficient way. As “the first of its kind” Sunrise will lead into wide range of CSP Thermal Airships in different scales which will accomplish different task.

Sunrise is judging the fast&aggressive characteristics of aviation, which is mainly shaped by War Industry. Do we really need that much speed for all the flight missions? Based on old, but proven technologies; offering a fully mechanical powerhouse, only fuelled by solar power; without any greed about speed; Sunrise is representing an anarchist but a pioneer role in today’s aviation.

Some Extra Links:
How much energy can a CSP system harvest? It is up to the efficiency of your collector device (lens/mirror), time of the day and year, and solar radiance potential of your geographical position. But here is an example clip from “James May’s Big Ideas”