Switzerland is preparing the first ever manned solar flight out into the stratosphere. It will be flying as high as an altitude of 25,000 metres, meaning that the pilot will need to be equipped with an astronaut’s suit. An exploit of this kind would be unthinkable with a conventional jet plane.
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The Swiss are very much at the forefront of technology when it comes to using solar energy for travel. After the Impulse solar aeroplane flew around the world, another Swiss adventurer has unveiled a solar plane with which he is intending to take the first ever manned solar flight into the stratosphere.
"Our aim is to show that using current technology, it is actually possible to go beyond what can potentially be achieved using fossil fuels," explained Raphaël Domjan, who is behind the project and will be the pilot of the Stratos solar aeroplane.
Solar-powered astronaut suit
In 2012, the Swiss eco-adventurer already managed to become the first person to travel around the world using solar power, on board the PlanetSolar boat. His new means of transport is a white two-seater plane with incredible wings measuring 8.5 metres, and with an overall span of 24.8 metres. It weighs 450 kilos and is covered with 22 m2 of solar panels, which will provide around 24 hours of autonomy.
At an altitude of 25,000 metres, the pilot will be able to see the stars even during the day, as well as the curvature of the Earth. Temperatures however will be as low as -70°C, and atmospheric pressure will be at 5% of normal levels. To keep the weight of the aircraft down, it will not be pressurised, which will require the pilot to wear an astronaut’s suit which uses only solar power – another world first.
First test flights February 2017
The voyage into the stratosphere will take around six hours – two-and-a-half hours going up, 15 minutes among the stars and then three hours to return to Earth. "Our plane is opening up the gateway to commercial aviation using electric and solar power, and taking us nearer to space," adds Domjan.
The first test flights will be starting as early as next February, with the maiden stratospheric voyages planned for 2018. "This project is fuelled by hope, and one that is the stuff of dreams for young and old alike," says Roland Loos, CEO of SolarXplorers which is the company in charge of developing the aircraft. "It is opening the door to new scientific knowledge at an affordable price, pushing the barriers of exploration and enabling a peaceful discovery of the stratosphere."
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