Another week, another nail in the fossil fuel world of transportation, but this time from the air. We’ve covered a few electric airplanes that have taken to the sky with various energy systems. Battery operated and even hydrogen fuel cell aircraft are pushing the boundaries of air travel, but the SolarStratos is different in its approach. It fuels up on nothing but pure sunshine in order to reach the stratosphere. Challenge accepted!
The SolarStratos Stratospheric Solar Airplane Takes Its Maiden Flight
The SolarStratos Stratospheric Solar Airplane from Payerne, Switzerland, is an ambitious project taking to the stratosphere on nothing more than pure sunshine. This very light electric two-seater aircraft uses a wide array of photovoltaic (PV) panels on its wings and just made its initial low-altitude test flight on Friday, the 5th of May 2017. Designed by Calin Gologan from Elektra-Solar GmbH, who is also a technical partner, the SolarStratos’ challenge is to demonstrate that it is possible to fly a solar-powered electric autonomous airplane up to the stratosphere and do away with fossil fuels. After previously achieving the first round-the-world trip powered by solar energy when crossing the Atlantic on board the PlanetSolar, the challenge now was to get as close to the mythical flight of Icarus.
Test pilot Damian Hischier got in the SolarStratos and taxied on the tarmac after the Federal Office of Civil Aviation issued the group its ‘permit to fly’. It then took off from Payerne at 8:00 am local time for an initial flight that will test its capacity to reach the stratosphere. With no wind, Hischier engaged the full power of the electric motors and took the SolarStratos on a seven-minute test flight. He reached an altitude of 300 meters (about 1,000 feet). After its successful initial flight, it will next test longer flights at higher altitudes, eventually achieving its goal of flying at 25,000 meters, or about 82,000 feet. The team aims to take the plane into the stratospheric by next year.
At the head of the project is Raphael Domjan, who is quoted as having said: “We must continue to work hard to learn how to harness the potential of this solar-powered treasure.”
SolarStratos Stratospheric Solar Airplane, Technically Speaking
The SolarStratos is only 8.5 meters, or about 28 feet long, and includes 22 square meters, roughly 238 square feet, of PVs on its wings. This gives the little electric airplane a 24-hour flight autonomy. The PV powers a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with a cell efficiency of around 22-24%. Weighing in at just 450 kilos, about 992 lb, the SolarStratos uses a 2.2 m (7.21 ft) 4-blade propeller powered by a 32 kW electric motor spinning at 2200 rpm. They estimate the SolarStratos to be 90% efficient.
Why is it a feat? Slated as the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history, in many ways, this project tests the limits of solar energy, lithium-ion batteries and electric motors in flight. In order to reach the stratosphere, the SolarStratos will not be pressurized. This means Domjan will have to wear a spacesuit to deal with the blistering cold -70 Celsius, -94 Fahrenheit temperatures. To complicate things further, there is no way to use a parachute in the case of an emergency.
Challenge Mission SolarStratos, Accepted
Congratulations to the SolarStratos stratospheric solar airplane team and thank you for getting us closer to the stars in a healthy manner. Merci et a bientot!
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