A new venture at the Roswell International Air Center is progressing in efforts to create a lighter-than-air, unmanned, helium-filled airship to travel to the stratosphere to monitor earth activities and aid in telecommunications.
Sceye Inc. is the name of the airship development program headed by Dr. David Kim, a research and development specialist with a doctorate in environmental sciences and engineering. Kim has worked in the past with companies developing technologies to purify water, prevent diseases and address other public health concerns.
He won’t give a lot of details about the project at this point. The field is competitive and the ideas proprietary. But he will say that Sceye plans to launch the test vehicle before the end of the year.
“We are launching in (the fourth quarter) of this year,” he said, “so it is just around the corner.”
So far the business venture, which started in Roswell in March and will involve as many as 50 to 80 employees at times, both from the local area and from other cities and countries, has renovated Building 1670 on the west side of the Roswell air field, putting in new floors, new doors and a new roof.
Inside the building, the Sceye team has created a subscalable airship that fills a large section of the 4,947-square-foot building. The subscalable model is only a small fraction of the expected size of the test airship, to be built in a multimillion-dollar hangar now under construction next to the Sceye building and expected to be completed in September.
The subscalable is being used to test different methods for creating large airships of more than 65 feet in length that will rise up to 65,000 feet in the air, stay afloat for up to a year, be able to be piloted remotely and be capable of returning to earth when done with its mission in a way that complies with federal and local regulations. Using helium, the airships do not carry the same high risks of catching fire as hydrogen blimps.
“We are very excited about success. We are very excited about getting to the stratosphere,” Kim said. “We have done this very differently than other companies that have worked on this. So we are doing this by focusing very specifically on the mission that we have identified.”
According to various press reports, other major companies are working on or have air-tested helium-filled vehicles, although those are not designed to reach the stratosphere or stay up longer than a few weeks. The idea of using airships commercially is seen to have enough promise that the U.S. House of Representatives created in 2015 a special caucus to support industry development of airships, although that group focuses on vehicles that can deliver cargo to remote areas.
Kim said the Sceye airships will be used to aid in public health, scientific, environmental and communications objectives.
“This is non-military. This is all commercial,” he said. “Things like anti-poaching, anti-trafficking, providing scientific information for agriculture and farming practices — we want to use it for these activities rather than military activities.”
He also said that a potential use could be to employ them like cell towers to foster communication.
If the venture succeeds in developing viable airships, companies or agencies would lease the vehicles.
“It is kind of like we build a truck for (someone’s) specific purposes or needs,” Kim said. “We are building the vehicle and we want people to come and rent or use space on the vehicle.”
He said he thinks the airships are a good alternative to satellites, which must be launched far into space, or airplanes, which must constantly be moving.
Kim said that the company intends to share more information with the public when the airships are successfully developed.
“Once we have tested our systems and demonstrated capability to get up there, we want to share what we have learned,” he said.
In the meantime, Kim said that, while he misses family in North Carolina, he is seeing quite a bit that he likes about the area.
“It has really grown on me, being in this area,” he said. “The people are really friendly, Roswell specifically. The food is fantastic and it is just a great environment. In the beginning, I was somewhat hesitant about being out here, just because of how remote it is. But it is just a perfect place. There is a lot of land, a lot of sunny days, a lot of good people around, which just makes things, from an operational standpoint, easier to manage.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.