Saturday, September 8, 2007

The airship of 1670

Who would have thought that the first design for a literal air ship was from 1670. But it's true. A Jesuit by the name of Francesco Lana de Terzi published a book called "Prodomo ovvero saggio di alcune invenzioni nuove premesso all'arte maestra" in which he described a small ship with mast and a sail on it, that could fly by having four copper spheres containing a vacuum. According to wikipedia:
The spheres would be made of very thin copper foil, and each sphere would have a diameter of 7.5 meters (about 24.5 feet). Terzi had calculated that the weight of a sphere would be 180 kilograms (396 lbs). He also calculated that a sphere containing air would weigh 290 kilograms (638 lbs). The copper spheres would be pumped to vacuum conditions, and thus being lighter than the surrounding air, would provide enough lift for 6 passengers to ride along in the airship.
Yes a vacuum airship, answering the question of what is lighter than hydrogen, because only nothing is lighter than H. Lanas design has never been build, in fact it was proven to be physically impossible. But is it really impossible to have a vacuum airship? I just recently found a new Russian Website of a 3D Designer named Michael Levin on his page, he has many really impressive renderings but one stands out for me, the rendering of a vacuum airship since the page is in Russian read the autotranslated version but what counts are the impressive pictures like this one:

So the question remains can it really not be built? Nano-Materials and Material Science is leapfrogging in the last few years aren't there chances that there is already a material that has the right characteristics. Wait! Do we even know the right characteristics? I researched a few Websites for example:
Unfortunately none of these websites provides any scientific calculations, either proving unfeasible or proving that it is possible. And in my eyes until no one has proven that there can not exist a material light and strong enough to be able to achieve vacuum buoyancy. I would say it's still worth a try. But I don't want to start a long discussion if it is possible or not. What is needed is a collection of formulas, joint together in a program so that it can be simply calculated. It's a very interdisciplinary problem, involving physics and material science and engineering. None of the disciplines can solve the problem alone. But as I said the first step would be to collect the right formulas needed.

Please check out the Airshipworld Wiki Page on Vacuum Bouyancy with the first calculations. And contribute to the page if you know formulas, can correct errors or want to add thoughts.


Anonymous said...

It is possile. a solid airship constructed of aerogel and skinned over would be strong enough to allow for vaccum......The DARPA "Walrus" project called for use of so-called "darpa tanks"; which were to be pressure tanks filled material similar to aerogel.

cost is the limiting factor.

Andreas said...

Thank you for your comment. So do you know where to get this aerogel and what it's characteristics are ?

Anonymous said...

you can Google "aerogel"

a micro sized silica 3D crystal matrix, approximately 98% air, consistancy somewhat akin to balsa wood, fragile, often refered to as "solid smoke" due to it's appearance and weight.

cost....about $100 per cubic centimeter

Andreas said...

I did do some research but could not find any data about how strong aerogel is. Checout my finds at the Aerogel Wiki Article

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a link to our patent application (there is a later US patent application, 20070001053 (11/517915), which is its continuation-in-part).
I believe we do provide “scientific calculations” proving feasibility of vacuum airships. In particular, we use other peoples’ formulae for strength, buckling, and intracell buckling of our layered shell design (paragraphs [0014], [0076], [0077], [0097] of the later application). Using these formulae and optimizing the shell parameters, we found out that a vacuum balloon with decent safety factors may be made of existing materials. Furthermore, we computed the safety factors and optimized the design using finite element analysis, so there is a good reason to believe that the design is sound.
Andy Akhmeteli

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After a semi-systematic search I found a material that may well prove adequate. It is called Ultra High Molecular Weight Poly Ethylene. It weighs in at 0.97 grams per cubic centimetre and has about the same tensile strength as steel. Beryllium, rare and toxic, weighs in at 1.85 grams/cubic centimetre. UHMWPE is stronger than beryllium and so mild, chemically speaking, that it is used to make prosthesis and surgical implants.

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I believe we do provide “scientific calculations” proving feasibility of vacuum airships. In particular, we use other peoples’ formulae for strength, buckling, and intracell buckling of our layered shell design

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Anonymous said...

A vacuum craft from sea level most likely will never work. Just too much force trying to crush it.

The big question is there a sweet spot. Where hot air can lift you so far then you convert to vacuum. If so then a high altitude vacuum craft is possible. Low altitude having to hold up all the tones of crush force I don't see as possible.

Hybred will be required to any successful vacuum craft from everything I can work out. Because I bet most people will want to be able to land.

Derek said...

You don't need to go for a full vacuum. A partial vacuum is still lighter than air. If you reduce the pressure to half of the ambient pressure your airship will still be lighter than air if it's big enough. And it won't require quite such strong materials.

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