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WATCH: Zero-Fuel Solar Aircraft Will Travel to the Edge of Space

Nov 30, 2016 05:16 AM EST
SI Takeoff From Hawaii
A team of adventurers is preparing for a mission to the edge of space on a solar-powered aircraft.
(Photo : Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse 2/GNR via Getty Images)

A Swiss pilot and his team are preparing for a trip to the edge of space onboard a solar-powered plane.

Raphël Domjan, 44, will fly his plane SolarStratos to embark on a mission no aircraft has ever been before. If successful, the solar aircraft will demonstrate the potential of renewable energy and prove that it can even surpass fossil fuels.

"Our goal is to be the highest plane ever, not only solar and electric," Domjan, initiator and pilot of SolarStratos, said in an interview with Wired. "With this project we take technology you can find in the supermarket and we push it to the limit."

SolarStratos is the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history with the goal of becoming the first manned solar aircraft to penetrate the stratosphere. Founded in March 2014, the firm has already raised $5 million and the experimental aircraft is already under construction. The plane will weigh 450 kg and will have a wingspan of 24.9 meters. It will measure 8.5 meters long and will run on a 32-kilowatt electric engine and 20-kilowatt lithium-ion battery which could be charged with the plane's 22-square meter solar cells covering each wing.

The mission is slated to begin in 2018, where SolarStratos will ascend to 25,000m in a span of two hours and 30 minutes. Once at the edge of space, Domjan plans to spend 15 minutes in the stratosphere before slowly spiraling back down to Earth, Wired reports. From up in the sky, passengers could glimpse the curvature of the Earth and see the stars during daytime.

The announcement came months after Solar Impulse 2 had become the first solar-powered plane to complete a round-the-world flight. The single-seater aircraft was flown by Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and co-pilot Andre Borschberg, each taking turns on the controls on different legs of the journey. The trip had set a number of aviation records, including the record-breaking zero-fuel, solo-flight of five days and five nights from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii, and the first plane to cross the Atlantic without a single drop of fuel.

Prior to the SolarStratos project, Domjan had already led the first trip around the world in a solar-powered boat completed in May 2012, Daily Mail reports. Domjan seeks to build on the achievement of Solar Impulse 2, which already demonstrated the possibility of traveling with only renewable energy, and go "even further and overtake what has been achieved with fossil fuels."

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