Metin Kaplan / Umeå Institute of Design Sweden
Fabulous concept with a forward thinking approach and solution.
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. The lens inside hot-air ballon focus sunlight to heat up air, not only to create lift, but also to fuel heat-driven Stirling Engine. Extra energy is stored as heat in insulated ballon and as motion in flywheels. Balloon rotates in 2axis to track sun constantly. As helium resources are poorly limited today; usage of hot-air, significantly reduce operational and infrastructural cost.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Winged structures “fight with air” and consume energy constantly to stay airborne. But “Lighter than air” (LTA) structures “act like air” and naturally float without any energy consumption.
When the speed is not the issue,or a long flight time is the need, any air-missions can be accomplished by LTA-aircrafts in much efficient, quite and environmental way, compared to Winged-Aircrafts. But today, due to the lack of suitable and accessible LTA-aircrafts; Winged-aircrafts are used in these kinds of missions.
Helium is the most efficient buoyant gas for airships; which is also crucial for many different industry. But released helium leave the Earth forever by escaping into space. “At 2008 rates of consumption, Earth has only a 25-year helium supply.” These reasons lead skyrocketing prices for Helium today. After Hindenburg accident usage of Hydrogen as lifting gas is still a huge risk. And hot-air’s lifting capacity is only 30% of Helium.
Just another problem of LTA-aircrafts is high infrastructure costs. As lifting gas like helium worth a fortune, non-deflatable airships requires gigantic hangars to get protected from wind. This means, airship must always return its base after a mission. As they are sensitive to harsh weather; they can barely fly to remote mission areas without any weather problem.
Yet another problem; aircrafts consume more fuel, to carry the fuel. Airship propel itself by burning fuel, which reduces the overall weight of the flying structure. To compensate this weight-loss, lift must be reduced by releasing expensive lifting gas to atmosphere.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
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, a fuel-drinking noisy helicopter in a several hour aerial filming mission, or an airplane for sightseeing?
Project Sunrise targets to be built upon simple, yet proven technologies to enable 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 hot-air inside to have a homogenous lifting-gas. To descend/ascend, propellers move down/up; without release/produce lifting-gas as traditional balloons do. 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.
Addition to deflatable balloon; collapsible construction of Sunrize not only let easy storage; but also enables transportation of the aircraft by any means of transportation.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
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 science-fiction, but many proven concepts are tested based on this idea. My target is to experiment this concept, 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-engined flying metal birds. Maybe the only good side 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 funding. 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.
In order to build the concept over unproven; even unrealistic hi-tech (!) materials and technologies; 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. Some industries already realized the great potential of these forgotton technologies. One of the most successful example of it is using Concentrated Solar Power and Heat Batteries to produce electricity in large scale.
Although the body of Sunrise can easily be built by today’s traditional production methods; it is designed 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.
Sunrise is not a ultimate-flying-machine. It is built 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.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
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?
Industrial history buried lots of idea, which are even more efficient than it’s competitors. Just like Stirling Engine which offer more efficiency than any other fuel-engine; or flywheel energy storages which offers the highest efficiency for storing energy. Sunrise dig-up the graveyard of industrial history; to give a second chance to these simple, yet proven technologies.
As all the new electric aircraft concepts are all based on photovoltaics; Sunrise seek its power on a much primitive method as concentrating solar radiance, which is first example in aviation
Challenging the level of simplicity in aviation; Sunrise is fully working on mechanical systems, by limiting the 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 of electricity by photovoltaics; huge energy loss while storing in heavy batteries; and again offers a poor efficiency to take this energy back from battery.
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.