Guidance, Navigation and Control of Airships

We are now witnessing a widespread resurgence of interest and investment in airship platforms. Airships are controllable lighter-than-air vehicles that stay aloft through buoyancy, and provide a unique platform for a variety of air-based applications. In particular, stratospheric airships have been proposed for long-endurance station-keeping missions. These vehicles would fly at 18-22~km altitude, in the calm portion of the lower stratosphere and above all regulated air traffic and cloud cover. This represents a unique operational platform that resides between conventional aircraft and low Earth-orbiting (LEO) satellites. With the capability to maintain a fixed station at much lower altitudes than LEO or geostationary (GEO) satellites, the stratospheric airship can provide enhanced performance for surveillance, communication, and remote-sensing missions that are traditionally assigned to spacecraft. Recent advances in lightweight materials and energy storage technologies have sparked serious interest in new airship mission concepts, with several institutions around the world developing low and mid-altitude prototypes or testbeds.

In order to successfully achieve long-endurance mission performance, the airship must be capable of autonomously planning energy efficient trajectories and robustly tracking those trajectories in the presence of wind and other disturbances. Princeton Satellite Systems has studied this problem under contracts with the Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, and has developed an autonomous guidance and control system for a notional airship vehicle. Many of the design and simulation tools developed under these contracts are now available in the Aircraft Control Toolbox.

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For more information: Airship Inquiry