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Transportation Earth Technology

Solar-Powered Plane Making 24-hour Flight 85

Posted by timothy
from the good-luck-and-godspeed dept.
After technical glitches threw a kink in its schedule, Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane first mentioned here in June, has finally taken off. Reader asukasoryu writes "An experimental solar-powered plane took off from western Switzerland on Wednesday for a 24-hour test flight — a key step in a historic effort to one day circle the globe using only energy collected from the sun. The plane left Payerne airfield shortly before 7 a.m. after overcoming an equipment problem that delayed a previous attempt. Although the goal is to show that emissions-free air travel is possible, the team says it doesn't see solar technology replacing conventional jet propulsion any time soon. Instead, the project is designed to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies." You can follow the flight's progress at the project's site.
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Solar-Powered Plane Making 24-hour Flight

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  • by s122604 (1018036) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:59AM (#32828244)
    I submitted an article recently about that very thing: C02 + Solar Power = Petrol or petrol like substance. (in theory at least) http://www.hindustantimes.com/Soon-you-can-fill-your-car-with-petrol-made-from-CO2/Article1-567293.aspx [hindustantimes.com]
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hi, AC here, as a veteran I'd like to introduce you to a concept called the "reply button." Try it out some time!

  • by gregleimbeck (975759) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @12:00PM (#32828254) Homepage
    We’re all counting on you.
  • If not, perhaps Icarus? j/k

  • It's nice to see the plane finally able to take off some many people have worked very hard at this project and I am glad to see them finally have there success. I always like to see these history making days that you will remember forever.
  • For this aircraft's maiden flight, there should be an online vote in which a song is selected to accompany its sun-powered ascendency to the skies. I will submit an adaptation of the Katrina in the Waves timeless classic 'Walking on Sunshine':

    'Flying on Sunshine'

    I used to think when you made me I'd crash for sure
    And I just cant wait till the day when you charge me a little more
    Now everytime I go for the horizon, gotta hold myself down
    Cos I just wait till you touch me when rising around

    I'm flying on sunshine

    • I just hope it won't be David Bowie's 'Memory of a Free Festival': "Sun machine is going down and we're gonna have a party..."

      It's also appropriate for SPARC servers that are preparing for shutdown.

  • It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone, but I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles. Sure, planes use a lot of fuel, but I'm sure that the millions of cars and trucks driven every day are burning through our resources much faster.
    • I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

      I sort of agree. Rather, I think we should be focusing on electric cars and simultaneously technology to renewably and without pollution, generate massive amounts of electricity. Nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, other... it needs to funded as research projects with assessment of efficiency and impact. We could start by taking all the money we subsidize oil companies with and redirecting it. Then we could start taxing all industries that profit by creating a part of a polluting product (oil, coal, gas powered de

      • " I mean seriously, is there any significant portion of any electoral base in the US that wouldn't vote for ending subsidies to oil companies if it were up for a vote? "

        Don't get your hopes too high. I don't know all that much about the US, but here, the oil subsidies on petrol were taken away completely last week and boy - what a ruckus it's causing! The amount of stupidity in humans must not be underestimated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone, but I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

      We aren't playing Civilization here. We can research more than one thing at a time.

      • by Jorth (1074589)
        But then you are just spreading those precious beakers around! =( I want tech breakthroughs in less turns... Oh and I want Leonard Nimoy to read out the breakthroughs to me too!
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Air "travel" (as in, transporting people) cannot be powered using solar energy with our current technology. This craft is the result of a lot of brainpower and hard work and good technology, but can't carry a single person. So translating solar power into human travel isn't really even near-term practical for ground-based transportation until we are ready to abandon the 2-ton SUV and even the hybrid and go REALLY light, as in bicycle weight, and maybe provide some of the motive power ourselves.

      Still, expe

      • can't carry a single person.

        I take it you mean a single passenger? This wasn't a UAV, it had a pilot.

    • by loshwomp (468955)

      I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

      That will go a long way, but there will not be single solution. Conservation is another approach with great potential: Our own wastefulness is a huge resource, waiting to be tapped.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      "It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone,"
      No it can't. This is a UAV and can not carry people so next.
      "I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles."
      An electric car and a dam, solar panels for charging, breeder reactor, or windmill. Next.

      There it is done for you.
      Or you can use Menthol, Bio Diesel, or Ethanol as well all of which are renewable. Yes I know the issues with Ethanol but most o

      • by TwiztidK (1723954)

        "It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone," No it can't. This is a UAV and can not carry people so next.

        Where are you getting this information? The original story [slashdot.org] referred to its last flight as the "first ever manned night flight on a plane propelled exclusively by the power it collects from the sun." It is an ultralight, but it is not a UAV.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          my bad since it was a 24 hour flight I thought it was unmanned.
          Of course it still can not carry people It is a single seater so it can only carry a single person. Yea that is a wiggle out but you are correct. Still in no way a practical form of transport and never will be.
          Even is solar cells where 100% efficent which they never can be there isn't enough energy density to make a solar powered 737 much less a solar powered 747.
          Solar impulse is producing around 8 HP. Just to make the math easy let's say that t

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Why do the solar panels need to be on the plane?

            Huge solar thermal plant, crack water, make Jet A from H O and C from air. Result is a solar powered 747.

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              Yes that would work but like my original posts in really already is possible. It comes down to price.

  • Am I the only one with "Around the World" stuck in their head right now?
    • I've got the melody, intro, outtro and everything else memorized for that song...except the lyrics.

  • At the point of final energy usage? Or at the point of original manufacturing? Or at the point of energy generation for the manufacturing plant?
    • by sumdumass (711423)

      How about at the point of usage. The other points you mention are pretty much insignificant at this point seeing how the purpose was to show that solar energy can be created and used when the sun isn't shining. We still cannot wave a magic wand or trick some omnipotent being into speaking the stuff into existence, so for now, we have to build from what we can in order to move into what we want.

    • by loshwomp (468955)

      Emissions free where? At the point of final energy usage?

      I'm probably feeding a troll, because this shouldn't have to be spelled out every time: Obviously it means no emissions at the vehicle itself (which is quite valuable, all else being equal) and, as with electric road vehicles, reduced upstream emissions due to improved efficiency, multiple energy sources, and simpler manufacturing.

      • by OzPeter (195038)

        Emissions free where? At the point of final energy usage?

        I'm probably feeding a troll

        No I am not trolling. But it seems like every time there is a story on alternative energy their seems to be a magical, overall-systems-impact-denying aura about them. And without clearly reporting on what is going on the general public will get misled into believing in magical energy and environment pixies.

        A classic example is the electric vehicles you mentioned. Yes they have all the benefits that you mentioned (but no mention of mining and purifying etc of the additional minerals), but there was an IE

  • Not emissions-free (Score:2, Informative)

    by noidentity (188756)

    Although the goal is to show that emissions-free air travel is possible

    This plane is not emissions-free, since there were some in its manufacture, which must be divided over its lifetime, and then whatever emissions are involved in the disposal/recycling of the craft as well. Lower-emissions, sure, but not emissions-free.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jeng (926980)

      Under your criteria thinking about a subject would make it no longer emission free since the body emits waste products while thinking.

      Why even plants emit, are you going to bitch about that also?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by e2d2 (115622)

        Don't get me started on plants. Plants are the scourge of the earth. Rocks are where it's at.

      • I'm merely pointing out that it's not emissions-free. Why claim so when it's not so? I was actually going to comment on the humans involved also using significant amounts of fuel, but I didn't want to go too far. I guess I still went too far in pointing out the truth of this emissions-free plane. Sorry for offending you. Next time I'll go along with the bandwagon, and claim that non-plug-in hybrid cars run on more than just gasoline.
      • by caseih (160668)

        Can't let you get away with such an obtuse, Republican comment. You're deliberately missing the point and confusing the issue. The CO2 you breath out in the course of living isn't the problem. It's the net CO2 that's the problem. For thousands of years humans have been carbon neutral. You burn sugars produced by plants using photosynthesis to convert CO2 in the air to sugar. Zero net carbon increase in the environment. This is completely different from the millions of tons of CO2 that our modern man

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      They are referring to emissions during operation.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      By that logic, nothing, not even a fully decomposed dead person or a chunk of pumice, can ever be emissions-free either.

      If the *plane* gives off no emissions, the *plane* is emissions-free.

  • I had my hopes high for a moment - I imagined a huge plane the size of a Boeing 747.. silly me ;-) This is an excellent start though...
  • Congratulations to those who got it working!
  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @01:10PM (#32829048)

    I have issues with the project web site and the lack of information. One of my main issues is that the site touts the use of new technology but nowhere does it explain exactly what "new" technology it uses. What is it's cruising speed? If it is over 50Kmph I would be surprised.

    Another important issue is that it never states is the batteries were full or empty at takeoff and how much of that battery power was used to get the plane to altitude. What if the energy used was only 20% of capacity and the main method of altitude gain was thermals and mountain wave? Recharging that 20% should not be an issue. What then happens if the plane requires 80% of the battery capacity to stay up over night? They would last one night but run out half way through the second night.

    I always love obvious spin. When asked when the non stop around the world flight will happen the site says "60 years between the first world tour with stopovers and the first world tour without stopovers in a traditional motor airplane". On the other hand, when asked if solar airplanes will replace conventional airplanes they state "when the great Wright brothers got their first plane to fly a distance of 200 meters in 1903, could they have imagined that 66 years later, two men would walk on the moon?" The spin is that from the first flight to the moon landing there has always been increases in speed, capacity and duration aloft. This technology turn back the clock to a low speed single seater aircraft and assumes we can still advance as far.

    An economically viable passenger plane would be required to carry passengers, be pressurized and go much faster; I am sure no one would want to take 100 hours to go from London to Newyork. This may require an energy output a hundred times that of the Solar Impulse. The current plane is already has a wing span of 63m. Even with a increase of solar panel efficiency to 80% that would require an increase in wing area by 25 times. That is one huge plane to carry a few people.

    Today, gliders with no electric motors can stay aloft for extended periods of time. The gliding community has stopped tracking duration aloft records due to the dangers of exhaustion. Here are some other current glider records; altitude 12 637 m; distance 1078.2 km; speed over an out-and-return course of 1 000 km 133.89 km/h. What has been created is in effect a huge glider with a electric motor backup.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.solarimpulse.com/nightFlights/charts.php

    • by feufeu (1109929)
      As you can see on the live tracking the airspeed isn't much above 50 km/h indeed.

      Just for the sake of telling i know better : gliding records actually are more like 15000 m, 3000 km and 1000 km @ 200 km/h.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Then I guess that the records recorded by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, The World Air Sports Federation, are incorrect. http://records.fai.org/data?c=6 [fai.org]

        • by feufeu (1109929)
          Not that i am particularly macho, but you are looking at the feminine records. Scroll down !
          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Oops!! But it further illustrates my point that gliders have already done outstanding feats and the Solar Impulse is not all that impressive.

            • by feufeu (1109929)
              I fully agree.

              Let's do some guesswork and math. (One has to resort to this since the website doensn't contain much geek porn, but rather esoteric bullshit...)

              The thing has a mass of 1600kg, which means there need to be ~16000N of lift for level flight. If the lift to drag ratio is a - guessed - 40 to 1 that translates to 400N of thrust. At a speed of 15m/s that's 6000W of power or, say 12000W if a conversion efficiency of 50% is taken into account. (Quite easily doable at that speed with modern props and

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Yes but for UAVs this might be very interesting. Also a solar electric aircraft could have a very high ceiling since they do not require O2 for energy production.
      All handy for a long duration UAV for communications or monitoring.
      For carrying people.... Not anytime real soon IMHO.

    • I share some of the critics that not all information is visible on the website: The cruising speed is 70 km/h as can be seen in the technical data sheet. But I also did not find information on how much the batteries are loaded by take off.

      For such projects, optimism and vision is important. Most people do not have that. Concerns like these would have killed any previous challenges. There were for example proofs that it is impossible to fly to the moon. They did not predict that one can build rockets wi
      • ReNothing new here. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jklovanc (1603149)

        The reason I am not impressed is that there is no new technology in the aircraft. We already have solars cells, electric motors,ultralight construction and high aspect ratio sailplanes. A competent aeronautical engineer could have done the design and shown that it could easily work. Sure it is cool but it does not advance technology.

    • I don't know about that. An airfoil type plane, not happening, but a solar electric dirigible, cruising at a slower speed but in comfort..there might be a lot of people opt for a longer duration "air cruise" across oceans, etc. Pretty big surface area on a blimp or dirigible for some thin film solar cells... As to "business travel", I am seriously disappointed that in 2010 we still have meatsacks traveling all over heck when teleconferencing can do the job. Same with meatsacks commuting daily to *go sit in

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Yeah I am really going to spend 9 of my 14 day vacation cooped up in a zeppelin gondola looking at featureless ocean. There is a reason there are no trans Atlantic cruise ships any more.

        Telecommuting has its limits. Try to have a meeting where a number of people are trying to contribute to a discussion. Try to keep track of everyone's mood and demeanour and display a drawing that would normally be on a 4'x6' whiteboard when all you can see is a 19" monitor. Much of a conversation is lost when you can not se

        • by zogger (617870)

          Well, I guess you didn't know, but there are still a lot of trans Atlantic cruises going on. Just google it (I just did, exists a plenty). And a lot of people have longer than two weeks off, heck, a lot of people with cash to burn are this thing called "retired" now and can take all the time they want.

          We can't settle this now because we have no long range zeppelin service, but my guess is when/if it happens again they'll be sold out all the time.

          As to your teleconferencing, I thought all you VIP IT biz guys

    • Consider solar/electric civilian spotter drones in fire season. An aircraft doesn't need to be an SR-71 to be useful. A "huge glider with a electric motor backup" is useful if it's cheap enough.
  • hmm..This is good news that we are developing something like this, but I would not feel safe in a solar powered plane.
    • Irrationally, I feel safer in a sailplane than in a 747. But then I've been in the landing with the foam on the runway, and I'd rather be in something that's inherently airworthy and non-flam than in something that's a potential bomb.
  • Ah, but...can it fly while slashdotted?

  • by sshir (623215) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:50PM (#32830496)
    Look at the real time charts [solarimpulse.com]. By "real time" I mean what altitude, power and speed are NOW
    How cool is that!
  • Sure they can chase the sun to the west around the earth, but they may run into issues flying intercontinental in the opposite direction.
  • A composite ultralight aircraft with a wingspan similar to a jumbo jet covered in expensive solar cells does not sound cheap to me. Remember that this aircraft requires a large field to operate from. Oh yeah, considering the speed it could take hours to get to a fire.

    BTW, there are already inexpensive drones available that can do that job.

  • Analysis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:58AM (#32836492)

    Now that the flight is over, lets take a look at a few of the numbers from http://www.solarimpulse.com/nightFlights/charts.php [solarimpulse.com].

    1. They need a more accurate speed and altitude sensor. There are quite a few spikes in the charts. Some of them have "disappeared". They were probably fixed in the data by averaging.
    2. They started with the battery 69% charged.
    3. The low point in battery level was 46%
    4. It took 7.5 hours to get to full charge.
    5. When air temp decreased below 0 the efficiency of the solar cells also decreased dramatically.
    6. For a 2.5 hour period when the engine power was at 4% with 0% solar charging the battery charge did not decrease; strange.
    7. When the battery was used, it drained at about 10% per hour.
    8. The airspeed was about 23kmph most of the time.

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