Solar power is quickly becoming an accessible form of energy for everyone, useful in both commercial and residential applications. While some people are content to use this technology to power their homes and cars, others have loftier goals. Swiss adventurer Raphaël Domjan, who recently sailed around the world on the PlanetSolar solar-powered boat, unveiled the SolarStratos solar-powered plane on December 7, 2016.
To the Stratosphere
Domjan revealed the experimental plane to press and political officials at an airbase in Payerne, Switzerland. The two-man aircraft measures roughly 28 feet long, with a wingspan of more than 80 feet. The 990 pound craft is covered in almost 237 square feet of solar panels, which are its sole source of power.
SolarStratos is designed to fly up to an altitude of 80,000 feet, making it the first manned plane of its kind to reach Earth’s stratosphere, beating the current altitude world record of 30,000 feet set by Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg in 2010. Because weight is such an important concern, the cabin of the airplane will not be pressurized; Domjan will have to wear a special space suit just to survive the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere.
A Solar Future
While progress is steadily moving forward, the SolarStratos is nowhere near complete. Initiated in 2014, the project so far has cost $4.95 million and is still in the development phase; much of the hardware still needs to undergo important testing. Test flights are intended to start in February 2017, but the first stratospheric flights will not begin until 2018. Despite the hurdles still ahead, Domjan is particularly optimistic.
If the technology is successful there are multiple directions to take it in. One option is to develop stratospheric solar drones that replace or support currently orbiting satellites. Facebook and Google are both working on similar programs, making the market fairly difficult to break into. The more interesting option is that of stratosphere-tourism. Domjan’s idea for a more commercialized craft would include a pressurized cabin and enough room for a total of three people: one pilot and two paying customers.
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