The Vacuum Balloon
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.
This is an interim web page giving links to web and other items about the Vacuum Balloon.
What is a vacuum balloon?
This brief summary is from: Vacuum Balloon - IdeasBank Memon which is at:
Objects which float in a fluid, such as a ship in water or a balloon in air, do so because they are are subject to an upward force ('the upthrust') equal to the weight of fluid displaced.
A balloon floats if its average density is less than that of the volume of air which it displaces. Typical balloons use hot air or a light gas such as helium to reduce their average density. Their upthrust is equal to the weight of the air their volume displaces, less the combined weight of the balloon skin plus the light gas they contain. Hot air balloons work because the density of hot air is less than that of surrounding unheated air. Balloons typically have flexible skins, although rigid skins are also possible.
If the gas within the skin was replaced by a vacuum, the upthrust would be at a maximum, but the skin would have to be rigid enough to withstand the pressure of the external air without collapsing. That is the basis of the Vacuum Balloon.
I thought of the idea of a vacuum balloon in 1982, and wrote it up and submitted it to the journal 'Speculations in Science and Technology' (SST). It was published in Vol. 6, No. 3 (1983), under the title "Lighter than air craft using vacuum". This article is reproduced as a PDF at www.aoi.com.au/Originals/VacuumBalloon.pdf. At the time, I assumed it was an original idea.
Around that time, I read a science-fiction story by Arthur C Clarke which was set on a planet with a hydrogen atmosphere. In this story, one of Clarke's characters said that the only sort of balloon feasible in a hydrogen atmosphere was a hot-hydrogen balloon. This was reasonable, as hydrogen is the lightest of all gases, but it did not consider the possibility of a vacuum balloon, which would also work in such an atmosphere.
I sent a copy of the "Lighter than air craft using vacuum" article to Clarke, and made this point about his story. He replied graciously and said the article was very interesting, but why hadn't I mentioned Lana's work?
They say that "There is nothing new under the Sun", but when I followed up Clarke's lead, I was very surprised to find (in the 1875 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica) that as long ago as1670, a Jesuit Monk, Francis Lana, suggested an aircraft based on the vacuum balloon principle in his book Prodromo dell'Arte Maestra, published in Brescia, Italy.
The relevant page from the 1875 Encyclopaedia Britannica is reproduced as a PDF at www.aoi.com.au/Originals/VacuumBalloonLana.pdf.
The EB article notes that this was the first workable suggestion for manned flight. It could not have been made very much earlier, because1670 was not very long after the nature of a vacuum was first realized.
The EN article also included the following illustration:
The Present Position
At the present time (2006 July) the Pandora website includes the following items involving the vacuum balloon:
*The Vacuum Balloon, a new approach to Building 'Skyhooks' with a great range of Uses (at www.aoi.com.au/pandora/frames5383.htm)
*A new More Practical Approach to a Space Elevator. (at www.aoi.com.au/pandora/frames7566.htm)
*Into Space Safely, Slowly, Cheaply: a new route using Vacuum Balloons and Orbit Rings
*Space Webs, a potential framework for pumping material from the Earth to the Moon(at www.aoi.com.au/pandora/frames3638.htm)
The Pandora website is currently being added to.
While the principle concept originated with Lana, so far no one has pointed out to me that the concept of building a vacuum balloon consisting of an inflated double skin enclosing a vacuum has been mentioned earlier or elsewhere.
Interest in the vacuum balloon concepts I have put forward has been expressed by many people over the years, but I know of no practical attempts to build one, apart from a preliminary effort by one man in 1982, which was terminated when the device he was inflating split apart with a loud bang.
The 1982 SST article included a summary, "Possible uses of Vacuum Balloons and their future", which is reproduced below. It is also available as a 'textbite', at www.aoi.com.au/Textbites/VacuumBalloon.htm
Possible uses of Vacuum Balloons and their future
Some possible uses for the vacuum balloon
The most obvious application of the vacuum balloon is for transport. Manned or unmanned balloons, equipped with wind-sensing and intercommunications equipment, could rise and fall to take advantage of winds travelling in various directions at various heights, carrying people or freight. Tethered rows of vacuum balloons could support cable-car systems. They could also support a long electromagnetic launching frame to accelerate capsules into space.
Vacuum balloons could be positioned in clouds to collect water and tap the electrical energy they contain. The collected water would have considerable potential energy available for power generation, and could be piped long distances using gravity.
Large balloons positioned above the clouds would be ideal for collecting solar energy, as would collection surfaces suspended between networks of balloons. These could also be used to shade desert areas, giving some climate control. With plenty of water and sunlight available, it might be possible to shift some agriculture above ground, releasing the natural surface for restoration to wildlife conditions.
It should also be possible to locate communications equipment in vacuum balloons, providing transmission sites to bridge the gap between tall towers and communications satellites. The balloons could also replace helicopters and cranes to some extent, in moving things over difficult terrain or at great heights.
The vacuum balloon concept opens the way to a whole new era of man's control over his environment. For the first time, it could make true mastery of the third dimension of space possible.
It may be that our future civilization will change radically, from a groundbased one to an air-based one, with the bulk of the population living above the land, or the sea. Expansion into the third dimension would make elbowroom for everyone.
Through a vast network of Skyducts, producing energy, water and food, and providing easy transport and communications from essentially automatic equipment, most of man's needs would be met, giving him the room and the leisure to suit himself.