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:

http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/x43-main.html

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