A new day for the sun

Last week,solar plane HB-SIA completed a coast-to-coast flight across the US over 45 days. This project has shown for the first time that it’s possible to fly long distances—by day and night—on solar power. Since it took off from California,it has only been setting records. What’s next: around the world in 2015 in a solar plane.

Written by Aleesha Matharu | Published:June 23, 2013 3:59 am

PROJECT SOLAR IMPULSE

first airplane ever to fly day and night without fuel or polluting emissions

Manufactured at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology,Lausanne

The plane first flew a whole diurnal solar cycle,which included nine hours of night flying,in a total 26-hour flight in July 2010

In 2012,it flew from Switzerland to Spain and Morocco,before the coast-to-coast US flight

Piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.

Bertrand Piccard comes from a famous family—his grandfather Auguste Piccard travelled to an altitude of 16,940 m in a balloon. Piccard’s father Jacques Piccard was the first person to explore the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

THE PLANE

HB-SIA is a single-seater monoplane. It can remain airborne up to 36 hours. Made by a team of nearly 80 engineers,technicians and mission controllers,it’s a $130 million project and it was 10 years in the making

HB-SIA took 45 days to fly from the West Coast to the East in the US and flew nearly 1600 km. (With two alternating pilots)

HB-SIA’s wingspan is 72 m—that of an Airbus

Weighs 2,400 kg—same as a mid-sized car

Its average speed is 70 kmph,takes off at 44 kmph. Maximum cruising altitude 8,500 m

It’s covered in 12,000 ultra-thin solar cells. The 12,000 photovoltaic cells of 145 micron monocrystalline silicon combine lightness and efficiency

How does it fly by night?

Solar Impulse can’t stay at its maximum altitude for long. After sunset,the aircraft shuts off its electrical reserves including the solar generator. It relies on its potential energy. The plane loses altitude slowly,soaring along at a glide ratio of 40 to 1,turning from a plane into a high-performance glider. By the time the sun rises,the Solar Impulse would have sunk to 10,000 to 15,000 ft,but still flying. Incidentally,on July 8,2012,André Borschberg piloted an HB-SIA that became the first solar plane to complete a night flight

OTHER SOLAR INNOVATIONS

the Solar boat MS Türanor SolarPlanet

*World’s largest solar boat at 102 feet

* Maximum engine power—120 KW and maximum cruising speed – 8 knots

* Number of days to circumnavigate the world in 2012: 585

w It took eight years to collect funds to build the boat,it cost $16 million and 64,000 hours of construction

* Completed its journey on May 6,2012,when it cruised into Port Hercules,Monaco,visited 28 countries,travelled 50,000 km

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