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  (Source: associated press)

  (Source: associated press)
The Solar Impulse is relying on sun power as it rides around the clock and attempts night flight.

The Solar Impulse, an experimental solar plane, took off on a historic ride around the world early today from Geneva, Switzerland.   Supporters hope that this flight will prove the value of solar energy.

According to team co-founder Bertrand Piccard, a record-breaking balloonist who's father and grandfather also accomplished  pioneering airborne and submarine feats, the prototype has been designed to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies.  

"The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel," Piccard said. "This flight is crucial for the credibility of the project."

Ten test flights have been completed since the project began seven months ago. The prototype aircraft is a single-seater shaped like a giant dragonfly.  It has 12,000 solar panels spread across its 207 foot (63 meter) wingspan.   The aircraft is powered by four small electric motors and will depend on the sun to charge its batteries. 

The theory is that the aircraft will store enough energy during the day to last through the night.  Pilot Andre Borschberg, a former flight jet pilot, will attempt to stay alert during the flight with the help of a ground control team that is monitoring the aircraft on the teams website

Borschberg,  57, is wearing a parachute just in case he runs into trouble in the air.



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Head scratch
By amanojaku on 7/7/2010 8:23:15 PM , Rating: 1
Isn't it obvious based on calculations whether or not this would work?

1) You figure out how much energy you need to launch the plane and keep it in the air
2) Then you figure out how much battery capacity that would require for 24 hours, plus a reasonable overage for cloudy conditions
3) Then you figure out how many panels of a given efficiency you need to fill the batteries (the plane should be able to take off, fly AND charge from 0%, if need be, i.e. the charge rate exceeds the drain rate)
4) Then you just build a plane based on the results

My understanding is solar-powered vehicles suffer due to battery density (and the inherent issues of weight, charging speed, heat dissipation, etc...), and solar panel efficiency. Until those issues are overcome no vehicle design of any reasonable use (passenger, cargo, or entertainment) is going to work. A fun project, but ultimately useless.




RE: Head scratch
By eddieroolz on 7/8/2010 2:56:28 AM , Rating: 2
Interestingly, on CTV news tonight, they had a little segment covering this news.

According to a group of UBC engineering students, they calculated that in order to fly a plane the size of a Boeing 747, it would require a solar panel equal to the size of BC Place Stadium's roof. Might not be relevant to a non-Canadian, but that's a lot of surface needed.

There's no doubt that this project is probably extremely immature at this point in time. Instead, I think it's relying on the development of solar panel/battery technology in the near future which might make this feasible.

In that sense, I think it's a big evolution.


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