Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Solar Flier

Its aim: around the world on zero gallons

Researchers at Solar Impulse in Lausanne, Switzerland, are designing a solar-powered, single-pilot aircraft they hope will circumnavigate the globe in 2010.

In order to generate enough electricity from photovoltaic panels on the tops of its wings, the craft will need a wingspan of 80 meters – about that of the new superjumbo Airbus A380 jet; at the same time, however, its weight can’t exceed 2,000 kilograms.

Meeting these constraints requires pushing the limits of materials and design and superoptimizing electrical components, batteries, and power management systems. Leading the plane’s development is the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard; in 1999, he and a partner became the first people to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon.

This story is part of our October 2005 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

The new craft’s basic design emerged from computer models built with help from the European Space Agency and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The propulsion system alone required the modeling of some 100 parameters ranging from the pitch of the propellers to the diameter of the motors, says Yves Perriard, an electrical engineer at the Lausanne institute.

The plane will use composite structural parts and photovoltaics protected by a special polymer that allows them to function in temperatures as low as -60 degrees C and as high as 80 degrees C. Component prototyping is slated for next year, followed by manufacture in 2007 and the first test flight in 2008. Piccard’s company has raised about one-third of the estimated $50 million cost of building the plane.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.