This Solar-Powered Plane Could Reach the Edge of Space
Normally to get to the far reaches of our atmosphere, you need to expel an incredible amount of energy. But one man plans to go the distance a bit more sustainably than the rest.That man is Raphael Domjan, a self-proclaimed eco-adventurer with a serious bend toward solar power. In 2012, Domjan circumnavigated the globe in a solar-powered boat. Now he’s thinking a bit more vertically and plans to fly up to 80,000 feet in the stratosphere using nothing but the sun for his solar-powered plane. RELATED: The 2014 AeroMobil 3.0 is the future of flying cars, and it's here today
His project, known as SolarStratos, was announced earlier in March, but until recently had yet to find adequate funding. On Friday, Domjan’s efforts were effectively given wings as a number of donors have come forward to finance the epic journey. Tentatively, the record-breaking attempt will be made in 2017, with test flights penciled in for 2016.
Domjan will make his climb to the stars in a custom two-seat solar-powered plane, designed and manufactured by Calin Cologan, the CEO of PC-Aero GmbH. The plane will measure around 25 feet long and sport a wingspan of 65 feet, all while weighing a scant 771 pounds. And, according to the project’s website, prototypes could be ready to go skyward in as little as 12 months.
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The design sources an 18-horsepower electric motor and 20 kWh lithium-ion batteries to drive the plane’s single propeller. Sunlight is collected from thin solar cells mounted atop the craft’s wings. In the necessity of weight saving, the plane will not be pressurized, which forces Domjan to wear an astronaut-like suit in order to protect him from temperatures of up to minus 70 degrees and get oxygen. And, if freezing temperatures aren’t worrisome enough, the plane will not feature an ejection system or emergency parachute due to its lightweight diet.
It looks to be an incredible feat once the project gets off the ground. But beyond just getting skyward to set a world record, the project opens new doors for commercial electrical and solar aviation at the edge of space. The total mission time is expected to last around five hours (two to ascend, fifteen minutes to maintain altitude, and three hours to descend).
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