Content - Maiden flight of Swiss stratospheric solar plane

  • July 24, 2018

Maiden flight of Swiss stratospheric solar plane

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – The first solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere has made an initial low-altitude test flight over Switzerland. It lasted seven minutes and reached an altitude of 300 meters. "The maiden flight of the prototype ... went off without a hitch," the SolarStratos team based in Payerne, Switzerland, said in a statement. Not only will SolarStratos be the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history, it will also be the first manned solar plane to penetrate the stratosphere. This is an impossible feat using a propulsion-driven aircraft.

Swiss plane SolarStratos

To go far beyond fossil fuel

Swiss adventurer Raphael Domjan, who is the project initiator and leader, aims to take the plane on its first stratospheric flight in 2019. Domjan, who in 2012 became the first person to sail around the world in a fully solar-powered boat, is aiming to go on a five-hour mission into the stratosphere: two hours ascent, fifteen minutes to stay up with the stars and three hours descent.  

"We must continue to work hard to learn how to harness the potential of this solar-powered treasure," he said. "We want to demonstrate that with current technology, it is possible to go beyond what fossil fuels offer." This Swiss project is also to open a door on a commercial electrical or solar aviation on the edge of space, with the aim of achieving unique travel with private passengers or scientists.

Flying in total silence

The stratosphere lies above Earth's lowest atmospheric layer, called the troposphere. At middle latitudes, the stratosphere runs from a lower boundary of about 10,000 meters to an upper boundary of about 50,000 meters.  

"Imagine yourself aboard a solar-powered plane flying in total silence at more than 25’000 meters. At this altitude you can contemplate the curvature of the planet and observe the stars during the day," the SolarStratos team says on its website. 

24 hours flying time

The SolarStratos was unveiled at the SolarStratos base on the airfield of Payerne, Switzerland, in December 2016. It is 8.5 meters long, with long wings covered with 22 square meters (237 square feet) of solar panels, which are meant to provide it with 24 hours of autonomous flying time.  

The tandem two-seater has a wingspan of 24 meters and a weight of 450 kilos. It is fitted with a 20 kWh battery and is powered by energy company Sunpower‘s ultrathin 22-24 percent efficient maxeon solar cells.  

The plane and pilot also need to weather temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius. For weight reasons, the vessel will not be pressurized, obliging Domjan to wear an astronaut’s pressurized suit which will function uniquely with solar energy constituting a world first. But this also means that he will not be able to get out of the plane using a parachute in the case of an emergency, SolarStratos said. 

The project comes after two of Domjan's Swiss compatriots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, completed the first-ever round-the-globe trip in a solar plane last July, in a bid to showcase the possibilities for the future of renewable energy (SCCIJ reported earlier).  


Text: SCCIJ with SolarStratos material; Photo: SolarStratos

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