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The problem, of course, is that airships capable of these missions have not yet been built. Most of the well-funded development has come from the military for long duration surveillance missions. But with the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the downsizing of the US military machine, this funding has dried up.

But Miller and co have a suggestion. They say that innovation in this area could be stimulated by setting up a prize for the development of a next-generation airship, just as the X-Prize stimulated interest in reusable rocket flights. The goal, they say, should be to build a maneuverable, stationed-keeping airship that can stay aloft at an altitude of more than 20 km from least 20 hours while carrying a science payload of a least 20 kg.

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