Innovation

Solar plane will soar to 'edge of space'

SolarStratos releases animation of project aiming to become first solar craft to reach Earth's stratosphere

 

Like Icarus, but powered only by the sun’s energy, a new plane is set to fly really, really high.

A Swiss team unveiled the futuristic solar-powered plane on Wednesday which they say will be the first aircraft of its kind capable of carrying a pilot into the stratosphere.

Covered in over 230 square feet of solar panels, the plane will be able to fly as high as 82,000 feet, according to SolarStratos, the team that’s behind the project. Commercial jets typically fly less than half as high above the ground. 

“Our goal is to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility to achieve above and beyond what fossil fuels offer,” Raphael Domjan, the plane’s pilot, said in a statement. “Electric and solar vehicles are amongst the major challenges of the 21st century.”

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Domjan is also behind the boat Planet Solar, a solar-powered craft that cruised around the planet using just the energy of the sun, a first.

The new solar-powered plane is not the only aircraft fueled by the sun’s energy to make headlines lately. The Solar Impulse 2, part of a different initiative than SolarStratos, achieved the remarkable goal of flying around the entire world using just solar power, completing an epic multi-leg journey of 26,744 miles that began in 2015 and ended this summer. That plane made the “impossible possible,” pilot Andre Borschberg told FoxNews.com after they completed the fossil-fuel free journey.

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The SolarStratos plane sports wings over 81 feet long, weighs less than 1,000 pounds, and is only about 28 feet from tip to tail. Capable of carrying two people and staying in the air for over 24 hours, the plane gets its energy from solar panels that charge a lithium-ion battery.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger