DARPA investigates new materials for future stratospheric surveillance airship

ROME, N.Y., 5 June 2006. U.S. defense researchers are zeroing in new materials for a future stratospheric airship-based autonomous unmanned sensor intended to track the most advanced cruise missiles at a distance in excess of 370 miles and enemy infantry on the ground nearly 200 miles away.

By John Keller

ROME, N.Y., 5 June 2006. U.S. defense researchers are zeroing in new materials for a future stratospheric airship-based autonomous unmanned sensor intended to track the most advanced cruise missiles at a distance in excess of 370 miles and enemy infantry on the ground nearly 200 miles away.

The Lockheed Martin Corp. Maritime Systems and Sensors segment in Akron, Ohio, won a $10.3 million contract June 2 to perform preliminary design, analysis, development, production, and validation testing of an advanced hull material for the future airship.

The Lockheed Martin contract is part of the Integrated Sensor is Structure program, otherwise known as ISIS, which envisions a stratospheric airship operating as a surveillance platform more than 43 miles above the Earth, with years of persistence in surveillance and tracking of air and ground targets.

Lockheed Martin experts also will a way to adhere solar panels and radar arrays to the airship hull materials.

Awarding the contract were officials of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., on behalf of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA. The contract number is .. -06-C-0050. The ISIS prime contractor is the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space and Missiles Group in Redondo Beach, Calif.

The ISIS program will develop the technologies that enable extremely large lightweight phased-array radar antennas to be integrated into an airship. ISIS uses a large aperture instead of high power to meet radar performance requirements.

This approach makes the most of the platform's size and conforms to the platform's limitations on weight and power. Major technical challenges are the development of ultra-lightweight antennas, antenna calibration technologies, power systems, station keeping approaches, and airships that support extremely large antennas.

The Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors and System Section at Linthicum Heights, Md., is developing a lightweight, low-power density Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the ISIS. The technology will be dual band (UHF and X-Band) and bonded to the flexible hull material of the airship.

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