Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Aerostat crashes into Pease hangar: Only damage is to research balloon, officials say

PORTSMOUTH — An experimental tethered balloon crashed into a hangar at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease on Friday, according to Pease Development Authority officials.

Bill Hopper, the PDA’s airport director, said the research aerostat operated by Altaeros Energies of Somerville, Mass., crashed into hangar 229.

“It did exactly what it was supposed to do from a safety standpoint. No one was hurt and it didn’t cause any damage to the hangar,” Hopper said Monday morning. “It did damage the balloon itself.”

The company, which was founded in 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a second balloon “that’s ready for flight,” Hopper said.

But the company first wants to do “a complete analysis of what took place,” Hopper said.

“They’ll be getting with the airport and we’ll make a determination on the safety going forward,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to launch in the immediate future.”

Attempts Monday to reach Altaeros Energies for comment were not successful. An email message was not returned by press time. 

The company’s website states its goal is to “deploy the world’s first commercial airborne wind turbine to harness the abundant energy in strong, steady winds at higher altitudes. Today that original vision has crystallized into helping rural and remote communities gain the benefit of state-of-the-art power, communications and other infrastructure."

The company explains on its website that “aerostats are the industrial versions of blimps and dirigibles.”

“The airborne portion, or ‘envelope’ uses helium gas to stay aloft, and is connected to a stationary ground system with a conductive tether,” the company states. “Aerostats have been deployed for decades to lift monitoring and communications systems in some of the harshest environments in the world.”

Hopper said under the agreement with the Pease airport the company can’t fly the aerostat any higher than 500 feet.

“Specifically they don’t have anybody under it because of this (risk),” Hopper said. “As long as the protocol is followed, the danger is very minimal.”

Hopper also noted the height restriction was put in place to make sure the balloon poses no danger to aircraft flying in and out of the former Pease Air Force Base.

The company is only allowed to operate the balloon at certain times and in certain weather conditions, he said.

When the balloon is operating there are “notices sent to airmen so anyone who’s flying is aware of it being up there,” Hopper said.

Hopper and David Mullen, the executive director of the Pease Development Authority, believe the balloon crashed because of high winds at the time.

The Portsmouth Herald previously reported that Altaeros Energies is aiming to develop more robust and resilient aerostat systems than those in use today. The experimental system deployed at the airport uses a helium-filled, urethane hull that is approximately 45 feet long. It is equipped with a number of environmental and inertial sensors that monitor the motion of the system in response to atmospheric conditions.

“They do know there’s always a possibility that these things could come down,” Hopper said. “They’re doing quite a bit of testing.”

Mullen said the company had to “cut a few cables” after the balloon “wrapped itself around the hangar.”

Two people from the company recovered the balloon and its tether after the crash, Hopper said.

The company lists its investors as Softbank, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, LTD and the Suhail Bahwan Group, according to its website.

Source:   http://www.seacoastonline.com

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