Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

David Hodgson




solar power, photovoltaic, airship, design


The purpose of the project was to design and build a prototype small scale photovoltaic (PV) powered autonomous airship. The principle reason for the construction of the unmanned airship was to investigate the possibility of using self-guided, lighter-than-air aircraft as an alternative to earth observational satellites for the purposes of terrain mapping and imaging. The necessary electrical energy was produced by single crystal photovoltaic solar cells. The airship was designed to carry an onboard battery in order to provide power generation in the case of intermittent cloud coverage. It was also designed to interface with an Arduino prototyping board which would supply the artificial intelligence necessary for self navigation. Radio controlled capabilities were included in case of malfunction or emergency. The airship design process was assisted by computational design tools written in MATLAB language. These scripts made it possible to define the geometry, lift, aerodynamic drag, and envelope (balloon) membrane stresses of potential airship designs. The results from the computational programs, and additional calculations, were used to create a complete CAD rendering of the airship using SolidWorks. All airship components were fabricated and assembled, except for the envelope. Preliminary testing results are included, as well as, recommendations for design improvements.