Twelve years of research, two pilots, the sun, one custom built plane and no fuel. Combine all of these factors and you have an innovation that might just change the world.
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschburg are attempting a world first, to fly around the world in a plane powered only by solar energy. The purpose of this voyage is “for the world of exploration and innovation to contribute to the cause of renewable energies, to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure.”1
The plane and the mission alike have been named the ‘Solar Impulse’. The plane itself has a wingspan of 72 metres, wider than a 747 jumbo jet; however it is incredibly lightweight, weighing just 2,300 kilograms – similar to that of a car.2 To put this into perspective, the Solar Impulse weighs only one percent of a jumbo jet!
The wings of the Solar Impulse are lined with 17,000 solar cells. These solar cells power the plane’s motors during the day, and recharge the lithium batteries that will allow the Solar Impulse to fly through the night when the sun isn’t shining.
“Today, Solar Impulse is the first solar airplane flying through night and day, the first aircraft to come close to perpetual flight”– André Borschberg3
Not only does the around the world journey present a technical and scientific challenge, the adventure presents an enormous human challenge. The trip will be a 35,000 km journey in a cockpit no bigger than the size of a public telephone box. While the journey will be broken into smaller legs, the pilots will endure up to six days and nights flying in a row, and will need to stay mentally alert with only a few small naps in between.
The pilots won’t face this challenge alone. A team of around 90 engineers, technicians and mission controllers will be on the ground supporting them every step of the way. Not to mention the hundred partners and advisors supporting the mission, from both a technological and financial perspective.
The around the world trip is estimated to take about five months, with the journey divided into 12 individual legs. You can follow their step by step flight here.
By powering a plane around the world with just solar energy and battery storage, the Solar Impulse project is sending a clear message that we have the technology and innovation available today to help address climate change.
The Solar Impulse project is sending a clear message that we have the technology and innovation available today to help address climate change.
You can help to reduce your home’s impact on the environment right away by installing a solar system on your home and joining thousands of other Australians that are reducing their reliance on electricity from the grid. If you’re nterested to find out the benefits of solar power or understand which solar system is right for your home, take a look here.
The journey will certainly go down in the record books alongside other iconic human feats; landing on the Moon, conquering Mount Everest, flying solo across the Atlantic and swimming the English Channel.
If you’re interested in seeing the step by step construction of the Solar Impulse, you can take a look at this video: