The Air Force has just signed onto Darpa’s concept of placing a large blimp into a continuous high altitude as a platform for sensors. The project is called Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS), and it would be a unmanned platform that is constantly airborne for ten full years of service using solar power to constantly regenerate fuel cells. The blimp would hover at 65,000 feet and would be about three times the size of current commercial airships at 450 feet long. At that orbit, the craft could be deployed anywhere globally within 10 days.
This sensor platform would support the manned AWACS aircraft and would cover an area of 600 square kilometers with sensors to track all moving targets at a 10x resolution improvement over current deployed technology. The Air Force has committed $400 million to the project, and the plan is to have a demonstration vehicle ready by 2014. Some of the technical challenges that have been identified are are the development of ultra-lightweight antennas, antenna calibration technologies, and power systems.
Read more in this LA Times story.