Scientists Develop Revolutionary 'Vacuum Balloon' Concept for High-Speed Travel and Surveillance
The project, led by physicist Miles Beaux and chemist Chris Hamilton, involves the use of a super-lightweight material called aerogel to create small hollow spheres, which, when air is removed, form a solid ball lighter than the surrounding atmosphere, enabling it to hover.
Beaux envisions the potential applications of these 'vacuum balloons,' ranging from transport to surveillance and even serving as carriers for delivery drones. The unique design aims to overcome the limitations of traditional helium or hydrogen balloons, which gradually lose lift over time, potentially allowing the 'vacuum balloons' to carry objects indefinitely in the air.
While the concept is still in its experimental stage, the scientists have filed patents for their innovations, depicting designs reminiscent of tic-tac-shaped UFOs encountered by Navy pilots in 2004. Beaux acknowledges the progress made since the project's initiation in 2019 but notes that creating a functional floating ball is still a few years away.
The key to the 'vacuum balloon' lies in the use of aerogel, an ultra-lightweight material composed of 98% empty space. By constructing spheres made of aerogel and removing the air from the inside, the scientists aim to achieve a structure less dense than air, enabling it to float. Beaux compares the filled spheres to sunken ships at the bottom of an ocean of air, emphasizing the necessity of removing air from the inside for buoyancy.
While the experimented models have been small, the scientists estimate that a basketball-sized sphere made from aerogel, reinforced with a lattice of tiny strings, could achieve liftoff at sea level. The physicist suggests that a larger 4.5 ft sphere might be required for lift in areas with rarified air, such as Los Alamos at an elevation of 7,500 ft.
Beaux is actively seeking funding to advance his research, which holds promise for a steampunk-style future with vacuum balloons revolutionizing transportation. The proposed technology could address the helium shortage and safety concerns associated with hydrogen, offering a sustainable and efficient alternative for various industries.
The idea of vacuum balloons is not entirely new, dating back to a 1670 plan by Italian Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi for a flying airship supported by vacuum balloons made of copper. Beaux's research, however, brings the possibility of such concepts to life, offering potential applications for companies like Amazon and Walmart in floating warehouses and delivery drones.
With helium prices soaring and hydrogen's combustibility concerns, the vacuum balloon concept could usher in a new era of air travel, surveillance, and scientific exploration. The futuristic technology could redefine the limits of conventional balloons and provide a versatile platform for diverse industries.