Chasing Rockets, Chasing History: One Journalist’s Video Reflections

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – As one might imagine covering the space program is a exciting vocation. Some professionals focus on writing articles or taking pictures others work with television stations or online media outlets to provide video and commentary. I have selected to attempt to do all of the above. This can be rather challenging. During the final launch of Atlantis for example, I conducted interviews with a variety of guests up until the launch, from there I operated two camcorders and a DSLR camera (for stills).

Doing things this way provides outlets with a wealth of different types of content to choose from. This also means that a lot of material is not used. This article will cover some of the things that ended up on the cutting room floor. What was not used – might surprise you.

SpaceX Surprises

Of the NewSpace organizations that have made their presence known out at Kennedy Space Center – Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX has had the most significant impact. Lately the firm has worked to get the media out, as much as possible, to see what the company is doing. NASA and many of the established aerospace companies have a hands off approach – essentially you report on what they allow you to report. SpaceX? They allowed this reporter to climb underneath the Falcon 9 and even have it spun on command. Check it out:

Shuttle Memories

Trying to accurately record and report the historic nature of what took place at Kennedy Space Center this summer was challenging. I took every opportunity I could to record what was happening and then relay that to the public. What I will always remember from this time was how open the members of NASA were and how they really tried to work with you to get the story out. To get a taste of what it was like, check out this compilation of shuttle videos from STS-133 through STS-135:


Whilst following the shuttle, the last two years have been punctuated by a number of awesome unmanned flights as well (not including the launch of the Falcon 9 which you can see above). The second OTV space plane, SBIRS, AEHF-1 and an impressive night launch of a Delta IV Heavy all helped to keep me on the road to Cape Canaveral:

Memorable Interviews

I’ve been privileged to interview many important people within the space community. That however does not mean that their interviews will stick out in my mind. Some of the ones that I remember best are from people that have always been a joy to work with. Stephanie Stilson is one of those people, she always has a kind word and a great quote. Greg Johnson is another, bombastic and easy-going, he has no problem whatsoever veering off of the official NASA script. To separate the two interviews I included a clip of the media being escorted up onto LC39A. Click below to watch:

Experiencing History

It is not every day that one gets to train along with the astronauts. I had the opportunity to do so on STS-135. I flew in the back of the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) as Commander Chris Ferguson practiced landing the shuttle. To date, this has to be the high point of my career:

Over the last two years I have been bombarded by folks stating that I should report things “their” way. Some want me to go hyper-technical, so that only an engineer could understand what I was saying. While I’m sure some folks wouldn’t mind breaking out a flight manual to keep up with the jargon – that really isn’t what I’m trying to accomplish. Others tell me to keep it as simple as possible and to never state anything that could be construed as negative – but that doesn’t reflect reality. I try to come in somewhere in the middle. The public should know that this is a highly technical endeavor – but they should also know that it is exciting, that this tale is not one without issues and that I try to show it all, the good, the bad and the awesome.

June 21 ATV Re-Entry: A Man-Made Fireball In The Sky


The Johannes Kepler ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) has undocked from the International Space station and will re- enter Earth’s atmosphere on June 21st ending its mission in fiery destruction.

The ATV has been docked with the ISS since February, where it delivered supplies, acted as a giant waste disposal and boosted the orbit of the International Space Station with its engines.

The X-wing ATV delivered approximately 7 tonnes of supplies to the station and will be leaving with 1,200kg of waste bags, including unwanted hardware.

The Johannes Kepler ATV-2 approaches the International Space Station. Docking of the two spacecraft occurred on Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: NASA

On June 21st at 17:07 GMT the craft will fire its engines and begin its suicide mission, tumbling and burning up as a bright manmade fireball over the Pacific Ocean. Any leftover debris will strike the surface of the Pacific ocean at 20:50 GMT.

During the ATV’s re-entry and destruction there will be a prototype onboard flight recorder (Black Box) transmitting data to Iridium satellites, as some aspects of a controlled destructive entry are still not well known.

ESA says that this area is used for controlled reentries of spacecraft because it is uninhabited and outside shipping lanes and airplane routes. Extensive analysis by ESA specialists will ensure that the trajectory stays within safe limits.

There still are some chances to see the ISS and Johannes Kepler ATV passing over tonight, but if you in a location where you can see the south Pacific skies starting at about 20:00 GMT, keep an eye out for a glorious manmade fireball.

A shower of debris results as the ATV continues its plunge through the atmosphere. Credit: ESA

Read more about the re-entry at ESA.

Bigelow Space Hotel – Reservations Coming Soon!

[/caption]Back in 2009, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte fired up the imaginations of would-be astronauts the world round when he paid an estimated $35 million dollars to spend 12 days aboard the International Space Station How many of us who are too large, too small or too out of physical shape to be a space traveller cheered when a rather “ordinary” human took place in space? Well, get in line for the next adventure… because just a mere $28,750,000 might buy you a ticket for a 30-day stay in Earth orbit.

Away from the glitz of Las Vegas, real estate developer Robert Bigelow is making use of the quiet Mojave Desert setting to solidify plans which border on the down-right incredible. His Bigelow Aerospace company owns 50 acres of barren land with buildings that aren’t much different than neighboring contractors – with the exception of high security. So why would these unassuming structures need armed security guards with futuristic alien patches on their uniforms?

Because he’s building the first space hotel.

These high-tech, low-cost inflatable space stations may very well be our future. As Bigelow believes, we’ll need a place to stay if we’re to further our studies in space – so why not in affordable accommodations? Bigelow has amassed his terrestrial wealth over his lifetime by providing rooms here, and the last 15 years have seen him invest approximately $210 million of his own money towards futuristic plans. In the long run, he’s willing to put forward up to $500 million to see his project through. His goal is to prove that space is a safe place for those willing to make the jump.

“We have a way of building stations that are far less expensive, far more safe and can be built more quickly,” says Bigelow. “And the timing is right.”

According the the entrepreneur, he’s engaging more than a dozen nations and has “memorandums of understanding” from countries including Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom. In February NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver visited Bigelow Aerospace’s plant in North Las Vegas, and the agency is currently evaluating the company’s expandable modules for use as expansions to the International Space Station.

While it would be easy to write off such grand schemes as another of Bigelow’s “big” adventures, these inflatable space habitats are founded in solid technology. Bigelow’s prototypes have been orbiting Earth since 2006. His expansion of the desert plant will provide at least double the amount of work space, allowing him to construct a a scale model of the Sundancer, the first habitat he plans to launch into space. And when that’s done, he’ll build a model of its big brother, the BA330: At 11,600 cubic feet, it has nearly as much volume as the entire ISS!

When can we expect to book a room with a real view? Bigelow expects to have a fully functioning station in orbit by 2016 and to begin charging rent for it. While a little less than a million dollars a night isn’t going to exactly threaten Super 8 rates, one thing we can look forward to is knowing exactly what lights they’ll leave on…

Original Story Source: Forbes.

Stealth Unmanned Combat Vehicle Makes First Flight


Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The 17-minute flight took place following a series of high-speed taxi tests in March that validated ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures. The Phantom Ray is a demonstrator aircraft, about the size of a fighter jet, developed to test operations such as air surveillance, ground attack and autonomous aerial refueling missions. During the test flight, the Phantom Ray flew to 2,290 meters (7,500 feet) and reached a speed of 178 knots.

The Phantom Ray on the runway preparing for its first flight. Credit: Boeing.

“This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “It’s the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing. Just as follow-on tests will expand Phantom Ray’s flight envelope, they also will help Boeing expand its presence in the unmanned systems market.”

The flight demonstrated Phantom Ray’s basic airworthiness, and Boeing engineers are planning additional flights in the next few weeks. Other potential uses for the vehicle include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

“The first flight moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go.”

Source: Boeing

What is a Flying Wing?

The field of aviation has produced some interesting designs over the course of its century-long history. In addition to monoplanes, jet-aircraft, rocket-propelled planes, and high-altitude interceptors and spy craft, there is also the variety of airplanes that do away with such things as tails, sections and fuselages. These are what is known as Flying Wings, a type of fixed-wing aircraft that consists of a single wing.

While this concept has been investigated for almost as long as flying machines have existed, it is only within the past few decades that its true potential has been realized. And when it comes to the future of aerospace, it is one concept that is expected to see a great deal more in the way of research and development.


By definition, a flying wing is an aircraft which has no definite fuselage, with most of the crew, payload and equipment being housed inside the main wing structure. From the top, a flying wing looks like a chevron, with the wings constituting its outer edges and the front middle serving as the cockpit or pilot’s seat. They come in many varieties, ranging from the jet fighter/bomber to hand gliders and sailplanes.

A clean flying wing is theoretically the most aerodynamically efficient (lowest drag) design configuration for a fixed wing aircraft. It also offers high structural efficiency for a given wing depth, leading to light weight and high fuel efficiency.

A Junkers G 38, in service with Lufthansa. Credit: SDASM Archives
A Junkers G 38, in service with Lufthansa. Credit: SDASM Archives

History of Development:

Tailless craft have been around since the time of the Wright Brothers. But it was not until after World War I, thanks to extensive wartime developments with monoplanes, that a craft with no true fuselage became feasible. An early enthusiast was Hugo Junkers who patented the idea for a wing-only air transport in 1910.

Unfortunately, restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles on German aviation meant that his vision wasn’t realized until 1931 with the Junker’s G38. This design, though revolutionary, still required a short fuselage and a tail section in order to be aerodynamically possible.

A restored Horten Ho 229 at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Credits: Cynrik de Decker
A restored Horten Ho 229 at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Credits: Cynrik de Decker

Flying wing designs were experimented with extensively in the 30’s and 40’s, especially in the US and Germany. In France, Britain and the US, many designs were produced, though most were gliders. However, there were exceptions, like the Northrop N1M, a prototype all-wing plane and the far more impressive Horten Ho 229, the first jet-powered flying wing that served as a fighter/bomber for the German air force in WWII.

This aircraft was part of a long series of experimental aircraft produced by Nazi Germany, and was also the first craft to incorporate technology that made it harder to detect on radar – aka. Stealth technology. However, whether this was intentional or an unintended consequence of its design remains the subject of speculation.

After WWII, this plane inspired several generations of experimental aircraft. The most notable of these are the YB-49 long-range bomber, the A-12 Avenger II, the B-2 Stealth Bomber (otherwise known as the Spirit), and a host of delta-winged aircraft, such as Canada’s own Avro-105, also known as the Avro Arrow.

Recent Developments:

More recent examples of aircraft that incorporate the flying wing design include the X-47B, a demonstration unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) currently in development by Northrop Grumman. Designed for carrier-based operations, the X-47B is a result of collaboration between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program.

The X-47B first flew in 2011, and as of 2015, its two active demonstrators successfully performed a series of airstrip and carrier-based landings. Eventually, Northrop Grumman hopes to develop the prototype X-47B into a battlefield-ready aircraft known the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system, which is expected to enter service in the 2020s.

Another take on the concept comes in the form of the bidirectional flying wing. This type of design consists of a long-span, low speed wing and a short-span, high speed wing joined in a single airframe in the shape of an uneven cross. The proposed craft would take off and land with the low-speed wing across the airflow, then rotate a quarter-turn so that the high-speed wing faces the airflow for supersonic travel.

The design is claimed to feature low wave drag, high subsonic efficiency and little or no sonic boom. The low-speed wings have likely a thick, rounded airfoil able to contain the payload and a wide span for high efficiency, while the high-speed wing would have a thin, sharp-edged airfoil and a shorter span for low drag at supersonic speed.

In 2012, NASA announced that it was in the process of funding the development of such a concept, known as the Supersonic Bi-Directional Flying Wing (SBiDir-FW). This came in the form of the Office of the Chief Technologist awarding a grant of $100,000 to a research group at the University of Miami (led by Professor Gecheng Zha) who were already working on such a plane.

Since the Wright Brothers first took to the air in a plane made of canvas and wood over a century ago, aeronautical engineers have thought long and hard about how we can improve upon the science of flight. Every once in awhile, there are those who will attempt to “reinvent the wheel”, throwing out the old paradigm and producing something truly revolutionary.

We have written many articles about the Flying Wing for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the testing of the prototype blended wing aircraft, and here are some jet pictures.

If you’d like more information on NASA’s aircraft programs, check out NASA’s Dryden photo collection, and here’s a link to various NASA research aircraft.

We’ve also recorded many related episodes of Astronomy Cast. Listen here, Episode 100: Rockets.


Controversial NASA Aviation Report Released


NASA released the results on Dec. 31 from an $11.3 million federal air safety study. The agency previously withheld the report, and came under fire from Congress and news organizations for doing so. Earlier reports said NASA was concerned the data in the report would upset travelers and hurt airline profits. But today NASA administrator Mike Griffin and the head of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor said the release of the report was delayed to protect both pilot confidentiality and classified commercial aviation information.

“We came across instances in looking at the raw data where information was contained that could have compromised one of those two things,” said Administrator Griffin. “We determined that an independent review of that data was necessary in order to prevent such compromise.”

A panel led by O’Connor reviewed the 16,000 page report and data such as pilots’ names and other confidential information was redacted.

Also, Griffin said there are questions as to the validity of the data in the report, which has not been peer-reviewed.

“We consider the study was not properly organized and not properly reviewed, and that makes the results very difficult to interpret and to use,” he said. The study was conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute for NASA.

An independent review of the data will be done in the future by the National Academy of Sciences.

Griffin said the original press release highlighting the refusal to release the data used “inappropriate language” to explain the rationale for not releasing the report.

NASA’s survey, the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System (NAOMS), interviewed about 8,000 pilots per year from 2001 until the end of 2004. The program was terminated before moving on to interview flight attendants and air traffic controllers, as originally proposed.

Approximately one million dollars a year was put into this study. Griffin said it is a small fraction of NASA’s overall work, and in retrospect, the study did not receive the attention that it should have.

The report can be found on NASA’s website. Its length makes it difficult to wade through the data. Additionally, some portions of the report that have not yet been edited for confidential information have been left out. NASA will release the remainder of the report as soon as possible.

The original plan for the survey never called for NASA to interpret and analyze the data. The study’s purpose was to develop new methodologies for collecting aviation safety data, and then the data would be transitioned to the aviation safety community.

“NASA conducts research, and this was one element of such research,” said Griffin. “NASA extended the research, which was originally to be concluded in 2004 in order to properly fund the transition of the data and its review. We’ve gone the extra mile with this data and we’ve gone well beyond our original intentions, which is why we’ve brought it to an end.”

It remains uncertain whether any data from the report will ever be used by the aviation safety community. Griffin said it was his understanding that the FAA has “simply moved on from NAOMS,� and that the FAA has over 150 different programs to provide survey data from individuals involved in all areas of air flight.

While NASA didn’t analyze the data, Griffin offered his opinion of what the report surmises: “What the flying public should understand is that they have approximately the same risk of dying from a lightning strike as they do dying from an air transport accident in the United States, which means to say that this is one of the safest forms of travel that human beings have ever invented, and that no one should think otherwise.”

In testimony to Congress earlier this year, Griffin characterized the data in the report as not as valid as he would prefer to have for a NASA report. Griffin said that he still feels that way, and that his concern is that this research work was not properly peer reviewed and the data that was extracted from the survey was not properly vailidated at its conclusion.

The survey purportedly unearthed approximately four times as many engine failures than the FAA has documentation for. “It calls into question the reporting mechanisms rather than the underlying rate of engine failures, which we believe we understand,� Griffin said, adding there are other inconsistencies, as well. “Those kinds of inconsistencies, when we looked at the data, gave us pause for thought, and still do.�

“The value of this will need to be determined by the larger aviation community, which I remind you, does not reside within NASA,” Griffin continued. “All that we at NASA have said is that this survey was not peer reviewed and the data was not validated at its conclusion. It’s up to others whether or not they believe this research has value.”

Griffin had promised to release the report before the end of 2007, and he did so without compromising confidential information that, by law, NASA is prohibited from releasing.

Griffin said this survey doesn’t cast any doubt in his mind about the safety of aviation in the United States. “I did not, having looked at a snapshot of the data, see anything that the flying public would care about or ought to care about,” he said. “But it’s not for me to prescribe what others may care about. We were asked to release the data and we did that.”

The report can be found on the NASA website.

Original News Source: NASA News Audio

Solar Aircraft to Fly Around the World

Artist illustration of the Solar Impulse solar powered airplane. Image credit: ESA. Click to enlarge.
Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard is constructing a solar-powered plane to fly around the world. His aim is to support sustainable development by demonstrating what renewable energy and new technologies can achieve. ESA is assisting by making available European space technologies and expertise through its Technology Transfer Programme.

Bertrand Piccard made the first non-stop around the world balloon-flight in a Breitling Orbiter in 1999 with Brian Jones from Britain. Now together again, and with a team of 60 specialists, they are constructing an aircraft named Solar Impulse that will be powered only by sunlight.

“Solar Impulse will promote the idea of a new aviation era using cleaner planes powered by the almost infinite energy of the Sun rather than the dirty, finite reserves of fossil fuels,” says Bertrand Piccard.

“Although in its present design the craft will never be able to carry many passengers we believe that Solar Impulse can spark awareness about the technologies that can make sustainable development possible.”

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme is providing technological expertise while the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne is the ‘Official Scientific Advisor’ for the project.

“The sun is the primary source of energy for our satellites as well as for Piccard’s plane. With the European space industry we have developed some of the most efficient solar cells, intelligent energy management systems and resourceful storage systems,” says Pierre Brisson, Head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme.

“We will make available this expertise, together with our advanced technologies, to support Piccard’s effort to demonstrate the potential of sustainable development.”

On its round the world flight, planned for 2010, the single-pilot Solar Impulse will be flown by three pilots flying in shifts: Bertrand Piccard, President and initiator of the project; Brian Jones, responsible for the sustainable development programme; and Andr? Borschberg from Switzerland, the Solar Impulse Chief Executive Officer.

The conceptual design is now in progress and a model of the plane was shown at the June Le Bourget air show. For the plane to be ready for flight in 2010 the following schedule must be kept:

* 2006-2007: detailed design and assembly of the plane
* 2008: first test flights and night flights
* 2009: solar flights of several days’ duration
* 2010 round-the-world flight

The round the world trip will take place in five stages, each of which will last three to five days. It will fly from west to east and between 10? and 30? north of the Equator to take advantage of the prevailing winds and sunlight.

Original Source: ESA News Release

Here’s an article about the biggest plane in the world.

NASA Scramjet Hits Mach 9.8

NASA’s X-43A research vehicle screamed into the record books again Tuesday, demonstrating an air-breathing engine can fly at nearly 10 times the speed of sound. Preliminary data from the scramjet-powered research vehicle show its revolutionary engine worked successfully at nearly Mach 9.8, or 7,000 mph, as it flew at about 110,000 feet.

The high-risk, high-payoff flight, originally scheduled for Nov. 15, took place in restricted airspace over the Pacific Ocean northwest of Los Angeles. The flight was the last and fastest of three unpiloted flight tests in NASA’s Hyper-X Program. The program’s purpose is to explore an alternative to rocket power for space access vehicles.

“This flight is a key milestone and a major step toward the future possibilities for producing boosters for sending large and critical payloads into space in a reliable, safe, inexpensive manner,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “These developments will also help us advance the Vision for Space Exploration, while helping to advance commercial aviation technology,” Administrator O’Keefe said.

Supersonic combustion ramjets (scramjets) promise more airplane-like operations for increased affordability, flexibility and safety in ultra high-speed flights within the atmosphere and for the first stage to Earth orbit. The scramjet advantage is once it is accelerated to about Mach 4 by a conventional jet engine or booster rocket, it can fly at hypersonic speeds, possibly as fast as Mach 15, without carrying heavy oxygen tanks, as rockets must.

The design of the engine, which has no moving parts, compresses the air passing through it, so combustion can occur. Another advantage is scramjets can be throttled back and flown more like an airplane, unlike rockets, which tend to produce full thrust all the time.

“The work of the Langley-Dryden team and our Vehicle Systems Program has been exceptional,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research J. Victor Lebacqz. “This shows how much we can accomplish when we manage the risk and work together toward a common goal. NASA has made a tremendous contribution to the body of knowledge in aeronautics with the Hyper-X program, as well as making history.”

The flight was postponed by one day when repair of an instrumentation problem with the X-43A caused a delay. When the preflight checklist was resumed, not enough time remained to meet the FAA launch deadline of 7 p.m. EST.

Today, the X-43A, attached to its modified Pegasus rocket booster, took off from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., tucked under the wing of the B-52B launch aircraft. The booster and X-43A were released from the B-52B at 40,000 feet and the booster?s engine ignited, taking the X-43A to its intended altitude and speed. The X-43A then separated from the booster and accelerated on scramjet power to a brief flight at nearly Mach 10.

NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Dryden jointly conduct the Hyper-X Program. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Washington, manages it. ATK-GASL (formerly Microcraft, Inc.) at Tullahoma, Tenn., and Ronkonkoma, N.Y., built the X-43A aircraft and the scramjet engine, and Boeing Phantom Works, Huntington Beach, Calif., designed the thermal protection and onboard systems. The booster is a modified first stage of a Pegasus rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp, Chandler, Ariz.

For more information about the Hyper-X program and the flights of the X-43A, visit:

Original Source: NASA News Release

Solar Plane Will Attempt to Go Around the Earth

Image credit: ESA
ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme is to supply state-of-the-art technologies to assist adventurer Bertrand Piccard’s flight around the world in a single-pilot solar-powered aircraft, as the ultimate demonstration of the potential for pollution-free flight.

Back in 1999 Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones were the first people to balloon around the world non-stop. Piccard has now launched Solar Impulse to repeat his global circumnavigation, this time in a pollution-free solar-powered aircraft.

This ambitious project is being presented at the ’32nd International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products’ to open in Geneva, Switzerland, this week.

The proposed aircraft resembles a glider, but with a mammoth 70-metre wingspan, exceeding that of a Boeing 747. Completely covered by solar cells and equipped with possibly two tail-mounted propeller engines, the plane will be capable of unassisted take-off and will carry the necessary batteries for night flying.

Several domains have already been identified where European space expertise could provide leading-edge technologies: they include batteries and solar cells, energy management systems, ultra-light composite structures and monitoring systems to check the health of the pilot.

The sky’s the limit for sustainable development
For the Solar Impulse project, Piccard is again teaming up with Brian Jones, his co-pilot aboard the record-breaking Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon five years ago. He has appointed engineer and pilot Andr? Borschberg as project manager and third pilot of the team.

“The challenge this time is to influence the history of air transportation by exploiting new technologies that satisfy the demands of our era for sustainable development and the use of only renewable forms of energy,” Piccard explains.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme is providing technological support while the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne is the ‘Official Scientific Advisor’ of the project.

“The primary source of energy on our satellites is the Sun, as for Piccard’s plane,” says Pierre Brisson, Head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme. “We have developed some of the world’s best solar cells and advanced energy storage and power management systems, all key technologies onboard our spacecraft. They will be a good starting point for Piccard’s effort.”

The EPFL institute has just completed a feasibility study for the project analysing existing technologies. Yves Perriard, director of EPFL Integrated Actuators Laboratory and one of the lead scientists of the study, confirmed: “We know that it is possible to create a structure completely powered by the Sun.” EPFL was an obvious choice for this study. The institute conducted the thermodynamic research for the successful Piccard-Jones 1999 balloon flight and is the official scientific advisor to the Swiss Alinghi sailing team, current holder of the American Cup.

100% solar powered at 10 km altitude, flying round the clock
The Solar Impulse solar-powered aeroplane must keep above the clouds to capture all available sunlight, at an altitude of 10 000 to 11 000 metres, where the temperature is around ?55?C.

Its cockpit may have to be pressurised for longer missions and its construction will require the use of the latest technologies in ultra-light materials. The most important challenge will be to build the large aeroplane with a very lightweight structure capable of carrying sufficient batteries for night flight.

The electrical requirements pose another key engineering challenge ? how to store sufficient solar power during the day to continue the flight throughout the night.

Perriard explains: “It is really a war against all the losses in the power system from solar cells to the motors.”

The EPFL study says that current off-the-shelf lithium-ion batteries provide just under 200 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg), enough to support a single-pilot plane, while a two-pilot solution would require a capacity of at least 300 Wh/kg.

The plan is to design and construct the first prototype aircraft in 2004-2005, with initial test flights in 2006. The next step is to complete night flights in 2007, initially at least 36 hours including one full night. From then on flying lengths are to be increased. . Innovative solutions will be required to store the necessary food and water while reduce weight to a minimum ? familiar problems for ESA engineers designing space missions.

When will the Solar Impulse fly around the world, non-stop? “It is planned to cross the Atlantic in 2008 and fly around the world with stop-overs in 2009,” says Andr? Borschberg, “To fly around non-stop depends very much on how quickly we will have higher energy density batteries?but not before 2009.”

Original Source: ESA News Release