Clemson-led group wins $10 million contract for next-generation surveillance 'blimps'

October 11, 2001

CLEMSON -- A Clemson University-led consortium will help develop next- generation radar-surveillance "blimps" for the U.S. military under a $10-million government contract.

The consortium includes Clemson, Pennsylvania State, Mississippi State, University of Alabama-Huntsville and Alabama A&M. The research is funded by the U.S. Army.

The Aerostat Design and Manufacturing (ADaM) project paves the way for the design and manufacture of affordable blimp-like surveillance platforms, called "aerostats," with improved performance and increased availability.

Aerostats will be paired with advanced radar to strengthen the military's early-detection, tracking and engagement capability.

These airborne radar installations are particularly effective against cruise missiles because their "look-down" perspective will provide detailed analysis of airspace. Cruise missiles are difficult to track because they hug the ground in flight, hovering only hundreds of feet above the surface.

Worldwide, nearly 100 entities, ranging from governments to terrorist organizations, are known to have cruise missile technology.

"Clemson University and its team of universities is uniquely qualified to perform this work," said Col. Mary Fuller, the project manager. "We needed an organizationwith the expertise in multiple areas of primary concern to this project, familiar with government contracting procedures and capable of assembling a team able to complete the required research - Clemson provided that."

The airborne platforms are more than 230 feet long, 75 feet tall and fly at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet. They are tethered to the ground with fiber-optic lines.

Smaller aerostats are already in use, both commercially and by the government. A "picket fence" of aerostats is already stationed off the southern border of the United States where authorities successfully use these radar systems to track and interdict illegal drug shipments.

"Clemson University is a leader in advanced materials and fabric manufacturing and has been recognized as such with award of this contract," said U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings. "The Army has a quality team in place to develop force protection from Cruise Missile attacks." S.C. congressmen, including Hollings, Sen. Strom Thurmond, Rep. John Spratt, Rep. Lindsey Graham and the recently deceased Rep. Floyd Spence, championed the Clemson-led consortium.

Clemson, led by Clemson Apparel Research (CAR), will find ways to make the aerostat's "skins" lighter, more durable and less affected by environmental factors, such as ultraviolet light, weather and acid rain. That means the aerostats will be able to stay aloft longer, perhaps for up to 60 days before requiring routine maintenance.

Clemson also will work with American textile companies to develop, test and manufacture the high-tech composite materials for the skin and fiber-optic tether.

"We are serving the needs and priorities of our nation," said Christine Jarvis, a professor in Clemson's School of Materials Science and Engineering and one of the founders of the Pendleton-based CAR facility.

The other research universities will focus on the following areas:

Pennsylvania State - Modeling and aerodynamic work.

Mississippi State - Improving the aerostat's ability to withstand high voltage events, such as lightening.

University of Alabama-Huntsville - Development of an on-board mechanism for monitoring complex meteorological changes that could affect the aerostat's optimal performance.

Alabama A&M - Historical database of aerostat-related performance and research materials.

This work is part of the Army's Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) Project. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, in support of the Project Executive Office for Air and Missile Defense and the JLENS Project Office, awarded the four-year contract. Money must be reauthorized each year. To date, Clemson's portion totals nearly $1.8 million.
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Clemson University

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