Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Manned sky platform?

Researching weather balloon prices led me to an interesting thought experiment. On a budget, could I put together something one person could live in comfortably, suspended from balloons? I had what I thought were modest plans for a spherical wooden/plastic cabin at first that, after weight and cost calculation, turned out to be fanciful and unrealistic. Ultimately after cutting out the fat I got down to using a "Portaledge", basically a hanging tent designed for cliff climbers, as the living space. The whole thing, frame + rainfly, is only 15lbs. Add a sleeping bag, food and water and extra clothes as well as a small thermoelectric wood fired portastove for warmth and to power LED lights, and we'll assume that's 35lbs. Add my own weight, 180lbs, and add another 5lbs to guarantee positive buoyancy. That gives you a payload weight of 220lbs.
Now for the balloons. I don't understand why, but balloons with a diameter of 7' are very reasonably priced at around $12 apiece, whereas any diameter above that and the prices quickly get into the hundreds of dollars per balloon. So, sticking with 7' diameter balloons with a net lifting capacity of 4lbs each, you're looking at 55 balloons, for around $700 after shipping. Total cost after balloons, portaledge, supplies and helium would be about $2,000. Shockingly affordable for a campsite in the sky. Moor it at a low altitude within range of cell towers and you've got internet access on your phone/tablet, which can recharge from the stove, or run continuously from thin film solar mounted to the tent exterior for $200-$300 extra. Pretty cozy, right? Kicking back in your warm sleeping back, little stove hanging from the peak of the tent crackling and keeping the interior toasty, led lights for reading, browsing your favorite websites all of this at a thousand feet in the air.


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  2. But how long would the helium in the balloons last?