Solar

Bright Horizons for Earth Solar Circumnavigation Flight

At the same time as solar-powered cars are racing across North America in the North American Solar Challenge, an ambitious solar challenge for the skies is moving closer to reality. Solar Impulse, the solar airplane project launched at the end of 2003 on the initiative of Bertrand Piccard, is now taking shape.

At Le Bourget Air Show, the core team presented a model of the airplane, the project’s first major financial and technological partners and the finalized design of the Solar Impulse craft. Piccard’s project aims to design and build a solar-powered airplane that will circumnavigate the world. The craft will have a 262-foot wingspan and will weigh only two tons, carrying a single pilot. Piccard hopes to build the craft by 2007 and begin test flights the following year. The actual circumnavigation in 2010 will involve four- to five-day flights with stops on each continent to change pilots. The partners in this project are Solvay, Altran and Dassault Aviation. It is their support that is allowing the development of this scientific, technological and human adventure. The project will be financed by private partners grouped into four categories: main partners, official partners, supporters and service providers. 25% of the budget has already been allocated thanks to the support of one partner from each category. Many joint efforts have also been initiated in key areas. The airplane construction budget amounts to 40 million euros. Solvay, the major Belgian industrial group specializing in the development of innovative materials (plastics and polymers), is also working for the Solar Impulse project, notably by providing decisive R&D resources. It is one of the project’s main Official Technological Partners. Solvay’s expertise complements the initial support provided by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL), the Official Scientific Advisor, through its various research laboratories. Altran, a European leader in consulting for innovation, is participating as an Engineering Partner. The Altran group boasts a wide range of skills in many fields, particularly in simulation and modelling systems. Dassault Aviation, whose aircraft, both civilian and military, are renowned worldwide, is participating, on the one hand, as the Aeronautical Advisor in the review of the solar airplane design and, on the other, as an expert in the development program. Lastly, Solar Impulse can count on the expertise of the European Space Agency (ESA), within the framework of its technology transfer program. A team of 60 specialists has been working for 15 months to reach the present stage of this project, reflected in the model unveiled at Le Bourget: an impressive ultra-light structure with a wing span of 80 meters – similar in size to the brand new Airbus A380 – and a weight of just two tons. This airplane has the capability to fly day and night powered entirely by solar energy and to fly completely around the globe in five-day stages, with the goal of promoting sustainable development and renewable forms of energy.