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Massive NASA-funded airship prototype takes off for the first time

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Earlier this month, Aeroscraft — a 36,000-pound airship prototype — successfully lifted off for the first time at its California hangar. Funded by DARPA, NASA, and the US Department of Defense, the 230-foot long lighter-than-air vehicle's frame is made of aluminum and carbon fiber, and is covered in a reflective Mylar skin. The Aeroscraft works by pressurizing helium — the blimp-like aircraft is less buoyant when the gas is condensed, but when the helium is released, it displaces the heavier air and lifts the Aeroscraft.

The Aeroscraft uses about one-third of the fuel of conventional aircraft, and because it can lift off and land vertically, it has no need for runways or ground personnel. This means that it could be used to deliver supplies to war zones, disaster areas, and other difficult-to-access locations. According to the Associated Press, Worldwide Aeros requires more funding before its prototype can undergo further flight tests, and hopes the Department of Defense and others will add to the $35 million already invested. In the future, the company also wants to build a 450-foot long lighter-than-air vehicle capable of carrying 66 tons of cargo.