Solar Impulse: Around the World in a 100% Sun-powered Airplane


The Solar Impulse is Bertrand Piccard's 100% solar-powered airplane. He plans to go around the world with it in 2011, but the pilots have started training today using an extremely complex virtual simulator that takes into account all its features. It has a 262-feet wingspan full of photovoltaic cells that power its 40kW engines. The Solar Impulse can move its 4,409-pounds carbon-fiber body at an altitude of 39,370-feet, while maintaining a 43.9mph average speed. Full specs and a picture of the team after the jump.


Solar Impulse Full Specs

Maximum altitude 12,000m
Outside temperatures + 80°C to -60°C
Maximum weight 2,000 kg
Average speed 70 km/h
Wingspan 80 metres Slightly more than the Airbus A380, in order to minimise induced drag and to provide a maximum surface area for the solar cells

Power of the engines Max. 40 kW The average engine power made available over a 24h period by the sun is comparable to that used during the first flight by the Wright brothers in 1903 (12 CV)

Environmental control and life support system
Elimination of CO2 and humidity generated by the human body
1 single pilot
Man-machine interface device Under development To provide the pilot with more detailed information about the airplane's flight characteristics than normally available on traditional airplanes. This information could be derived by other senses than sight and hearing

Essentially constructed from carbon fiber
sandwhich structure Using very thin materials with the lowest possible densities

Batteries lithium , weight of 450 kg, from 200 Wh/kg battery capacities
Solar cells monocrystaline silicon, 130 micron thickness, about 250 m2 surface, min 20 % photovoltaic efficiency
Ultra-thin and integrated in the wings

Human parameters Sleep management, MMI
Energy parameters Capturing and channelling of the energy, battery, engines
Trajectography parameters The met, hours of sunshine Several hundreds, even thousands of parameters to coordinate in order to develop a machine evolving in an area of flight still unexplored today. In order not to penalize the needs of propulsion, success can only be achieved through optimizing output and reducing overall weight. Safety parameters Reliability
Mechanical parameters materials, mass
Aerodynamic parameters Quality of flight, loads, performance, aeroelastic phenomena
Thermic parameters Radiation

With those features, the Solar Impulse won't beat the pants out of the Dreamliners, but it sure is one stunning airplane and one amazing challenge for Bertrand Piccard and his Number One co-pilot, André Borschberg.

Press Note [Solar Impulse via BBC News]
Flash animation [Solar Impulse]

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