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A solar-powered plane that flies at night

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Thinking of a plane, powered by solar energy, and capable of flying at night might look like a contradiction in terms, but not if you have seen the flight of the Solar Impulse, an ultra light aircraft powered entirely by the light of the Sun.
It took off early in the morning from the Payerne aerodrome, in Switzerland (a country that lately is making the headlines for flight-related issues, also because of the Swiss-born Jean Yves Rossy, aptly nicknamed Jetman), and this solar plane has landed, in the same place, after more than 26 hours of continuous flight.

This has been possible thanks to the solar energy harnessed by the 11628 solar cells that cover Solar Impulse’s wings. By taking off in the early hours, the vehicle can gather energy during the day, and use it to charge the approximately 400 kgs of batteries that power its 4 electric engines. Its light weight (around 1600 kgs, more or less like a mid-sized car) allows for a limited energy consumption.

The energy harnessed during the daytime flight proved enough to power Solar Impulse even during the hours in which the only light comes from the moon; success of this first experiment paves the way for the ultimate goal of the Solar Impulse project, that is, flying around the world non-stop, thanks to the fact that its solar cells are able to produce more energy than its engines actually use.

The project started 7 years ago, and in the intentions of André Borscherg, who is both CEO of Solar Impulse and pilot of the plane, the target of circumnavigating the globe should be reached by the end of 2012.

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