Up, Up, and Away: Swiss Create Solar Plane Capable of Stratospheric Heights
In just two months after the revolutionary circumnavigation of the world by solar-powered plane, it seems the Swiss are at it again. Raphael Domjan, an “ecoexplorer” and electrical engineer, premiered on Wednesday his solar plane capable of reaching staggering heights of 82,000 feet, or nearly halfway through the stratosphere.
The SolarStratos, with its wingspan adorned with 237 square feet of solar panels, is to become the first manned stratospheric flight in a solar plane. The plane, resembling something between a fighter jet and a futuristic spacecraft, can hold two passengers. It’s also incredibly light-- to diminish gravitational pull and avoid excess weight, Domjan will wear a pressurized suit akin to an astronaut’s (unlike typical models, Domjan’s will also run on solar power).
Domjan currently holds the Guinness World Record for the first round-the-world journey on a solar-powered boat, during a voyage conducted in 2012. His next initiative comes soon after a landmark achievement by his compatriots, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, who were the first to circumnavigate the globe in a solar plane. Their vehicle, the Solar Impulse 2, completed a 26,700 mile lap around the world in a mere 23 days.
SolarStratos will commence its flight testing in February, with medium altitude flights on schedule for next summer. The maiden voyage to the stratosphere-- a trip that will take in total 5 hours-- should take place in 2018.
Though he personally aims for the edge of the atmosphere, Domjan insists the concept is brimming with potential for applications closer to home.
“[It] opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space.”
Atmospheric graphic from NOAA
Image from Phys.org