Aircraft

Solar-powered two-seater plane will soar to the edge of space

Solar-powered two-seater plane...
The aim of the SolarStratos project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy
The aim of the SolarStratos project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy
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The aim of the SolarStratos project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy
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The aim of the SolarStratos project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy
The SolarStratos project will explore the possibility of flying people to the edge of space using solar technology
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The SolarStratos project will explore the possibility of flying people to the edge of space using solar technology
The SolarStratos plane will measure 8.5-m (27.9-ft) long, have a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weigh in at just 450 kg (992 lb)
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The SolarStratos plane will measure 8.5-m (27.9-ft) long, have a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weigh in at just 450 kg (992 lb)
The SolarStratos plane will be the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history and the first to reach the stratosphere
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The SolarStratos plane will be the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history and the first to reach the stratosphere
There will be 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels covering the SolarStratos plane
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There will be 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels covering the SolarStratos plane
The solar panels on the SolarStratos plane will power a 32-kW electric engine and charge a 20-kWh lithium-ion battery
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The solar panels on the SolarStratos plane will power a 32-kW electric engine and charge a 20-kWh lithium-ion battery
The SolarStratos plane will apparently be able to stay airborne for over 24 hours, although its first flight will last just five hours
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The SolarStratos plane will apparently be able to stay airborne for over 24 hours, although its first flight will last just five hours
SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan will wear a pressurized suit, like those worn by astronauts, which will not allow for the use of a parachute should the need arise
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SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan will wear a pressurized suit, like those worn by astronauts, which will not allow for the use of a parachute should the need arise
Among the factors at play on the SolarStratos mission will be temperatures of around -70 °F (-57 °C) and atmospheric pressure of around five percent that on Earth
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Among the factors at play on the SolarStratos mission will be temperatures of around -70 °F (-57 °C) and atmospheric pressure of around five percent that on Earth
SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan apparently had the idea for the project during the Atlantic crossing of his PlanetSolar boat's round-the-world journey
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SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan apparently had the idea for the project during the Atlantic crossing of his PlanetSolar boat's round-the-world journey

Solar planes have already traversed the Alps and flown around the world, but one team has its sights set a little higher: the edge of space. SolarStratos is planning to fly a solar-powered plane to an altitude of over 80,000 ft (24,000 m), from where the curvature of the Earth as well as daytime stars will be visible.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy and to explore the possibility of flying people to such altitudes using solar technology. Although it began in 2014, it has hit a significant milestone this month with the completion of the hangar that will serve as the team's operational base, in which the SolarStratos plane will be developed and maintained and from where testing will be carried out.

The plane has been built by electric- and solar-aircraft firm PC-Aero, which was behind the Elektra One plane, and its solar systems have been developed by the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology. It is said to be the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history and the first that will reach the stratosphere. It measures 8.5-m (27.9-ft) long, has a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weighs in at just 450 kg (992 lb).

There are 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels covering the plane that power a 32-kW electric engine and charge a 20-kWh lithium-ion battery. These will apparently allow the plane to stay airborne for over 24 hours, although its inaugural flight is slated to be a little shorter, clocking in at five hours – two to ascend, 15 minutes to look around, and three hours to descend.

SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan will wear a pressurized suit, like those worn by astronauts, which will not allow for the use of a parachute should the need arise
SolarStratos pilot Raphaël Domjan will wear a pressurized suit, like those worn by astronauts, which will not allow for the use of a parachute should the need arise

To save weight during the flight, the plane will not be pressurized. Instead, pilot Raphaël Domjan will wear a pressurized suit, like those worn by astronauts. As the suit will be connected to and powered by the plane, it will not allow him, should the need arise, to eject or to use a parachute. Among the factors at play will be temperatures as low as -70 °F (-57 °C) and atmospheric pressure of around 5 percent that on Earth.

Domjan apparently had the idea for the SolarStratos project during the Atlantic crossing of his PlanetSolar boat's round-the-world journey. The hangar and the plane are due to be publicly launched on December 7th, with test flights scheduled to begin early next year. The mission itself is currently set for 2018.

The exceptionally well-done video below provides an idea of what the journey will be like.

Source: SolarStratos


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8 comments
SaysMe
That is crazy...
Bob
I'm a little rusty on this but wouldn't the stall speed be somewhere over 500mph at 80,000 feet, even for a very light airplane? While an electric plane wouldn't need oxygen to power its propeller like a piston engine, the -94 degrees F. will surely limit the output of its battery. The solar panels will have to do the bulk of the job to maintain altitude. I would also think that the propeller and control surfaces would have to be rather large for control and the plane could very well break up trying to recover from a high speed stall. Being a two seater doesn't sound right either. Carrying the extra weight of a passenger to this altitude doesn't make sense. Just the power to heat another spacesuit and enough oxygen for two with no way to eject sounds like a very risky project. It says the plane has already been built. I hope it can fly half as high as the advertising hype.
SimonClarke
It looks to me like they are taking a standard modern Motor glider, removing the engine and fitting motor, batteries, new larger wings and tailplane incorporating the solar panels. Firstly, good on them. I'd love to own and operate a solar powered aircraft like this, the operating costs would be very low. I agree with the other persons comments. Flying at ultrahigh altitudes leads to all sorts of issues. The U2 in a gentle turn could have one wing tip going supersonic and the other one stalling. I would also recommend a parachute system. A heating system for the batter would help with it's efficiency. Lastly I hope they are stripping out as much weight as possible. As a Weights Engineer, I know how critical this is. I wish them every success. If they achieve over 50,000 they will be doing well.
watersworm
This sort of electric plane wouldn( be more effective on a unmanned version ???
Future3000
@ Bob: I agree! Stall speed of a light vehicle is lower, but the wings and propeller are too small for this air pressure. But great project! Interesting is that: " to an altitude of over 80,000 ft (24,000 m), from where the curvature of the Earth as well as daytime stars will be visible". I made a stratosphere flight in 1992 on board of a MIG 25. Height 120.000 ft or 36.000 m. It was amazing and I could see the curvature of horizon and the thin blue line named atmosphere. This day changed my sight on Earth and some explanations I heard as little Apollo addicted boy: "we walked on moon, but we can't see any stars above the moon", so I became an spacecraft engineer... At this day, high noon April 1992 and 36 km above snowy, white shining Russia, I saw the stars with my own eyes in this very very dark blue sunny sky and thought: Fuck, they lied! Hope I can see Apollo landing site on Moon with my own eyes till I die, because I can't belief this.
JanBrandt
A propeller powered plane at that altitude is crazy.
Nik
I think they will need some very strong thermals to reach their intended height.
BrianK56
This will be good to see since it's never been done before.