Solar plane stays in the air for months, light as an SUV, opens the door to future aviation

Tram Ho

With a wingspan comparable to a Boeing 747 but the weight of an SUV, the solar-powered plane made its trip around the Earth in 2016 without using a single drop of fuel.

Called Solar Impulse 2, the plane is the brainchild of Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard and Swiss engineer Bertrand Borschberg. This vehicle is built to show the potential of renewable energy. After the record-breaking flight, the plane accomplished its goal and is now enjoying a “new life”.

In 2019, start-up Skydweller Aero acquired the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 to turn it into the world’s first commercially viable satellite-like device. The Solar Impulse 2 can do the job of an orbiting satellite but is more flexible and has less impact on the environment.

Skydweller CEO Robert Miller said: “ This satellite-like device is a plane that stays aloft indefinitely. Flight time can be 30, 60, 90 days or 1 year. As such, the device can do the basic things that a satellite can do .” The device’s functions also include providing telecommunications, Earth imaging, as well as disaster response and monitoring. close to natural resources.

The plane is cheaper and greener

Using airplanes to make satellites is much more flexible and cheaper. Satellites are expensive to build, and rockets are needed to launch them into orbit. These devices often operate on fossil fuels that pollute the environment.

Airplanes will also last longer because satellites have a limited lifespan and at some point will stop working, adding to space junk. Recent research shows that large satellites can destroy the ozone layer through the release of chemicals.

After purchasing Solar Impulse 2, Skydweller spent several months modifying the plane and relaunching it in November 2020. Since then, the solar-powered plane has completed 12 test flights, in sunny weather of southeastern Spain.

We’re in the process of turning it into a drone,” said CEO Miller. Pilots are still on board for safety, but now we have the ability to fly the plane on full autopilot .”

Máy bay năng lượng mặt trời ở trên không nhiều tháng, nhẹ chỉ bằng chiếc SUV, mở cánh cửa cho hàng không tương lai - Ảnh 1.

Solar Impulse 2 solar plane flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. Photo: Jean Reillard/Handout/Getty Images

Takeoffs and landings are still controlled by the pilot, but Miller said the next step is to add systems to make the plane operate autonomously.

He added: “ After that, the plane will no longer need a pilot. We are in the beginning stages of building a second plane without a cockpit .” The removal of the cockpit and pilot’s seat will create more room for cargo. It is also necessary for the plane to fly for weeks or months.

Miller says the plane could be deployed as early as 2023. He believes the market for solar-powered aircraft will grow into the thousands. In the past, companies like Facebook and Google have experimented with satellite-like equipment, but never developed a real commercial product.

Jeremiah Gertler, aeronautics analyst at defense and aviation market analysis firm Teal Group, said: “ There is certainly a growing demand for the types of services that Skydweller offers. While others are providing similar and differentiated solutions for high and long flights, being at the forefront is an advantage .”

Diverse applications of solar aircraft

As is the case with satellites, the solar aircraft application project is attracting the interest of governments and militaries. The US Navy has invested $ 5 million in Skydweller to investigate the aircraft’s ability to perform maritime patrol.

The US military also awarded Skydweller a contract worth $14 million. However, CEO Miller said the company wants to go the commercial route rather than the government oriented.

Solar aircraft have many potential applications for environmental benefits, such as monitoring natural resource usage. The aircraft can spy at sea to detect illegal fishing vessels or oil leaks due to undersea drilling.

Máy bay năng lượng mặt trời ở trên không nhiều tháng, nhẹ chỉ bằng chiếc SUV, mở cánh cửa cho hàng không tương lai - Ảnh 2.

Photo: Skydweller Aero Inc.

Skydweller aircraft can be used for telecommunications purposes. Because using aircraft to provide internet or mobile access can be economically viable if adequate satellite or telecommunications infrastructure is not available.

In November 2021, the company partnered with Telefonica, one of the world’s largest mobile network providers, to develop mobile coverage solutions in underserved areas worldwide. The Skydweller will act as a “cell tower in the sky” with no carbon emissions. The aircraft can also provide temporary communications infrastructure in disaster areas.

One of the challenges facing the Skydweller solar plane is that it needs sunlight to operate. Therefore, the aircraft will have to operate at a certain latitude. In addition, the aircraft must also comply with regulations on drones.

It’s really a race to see whether technology or regulation solves the problems of the aircraft first, but there are many reasons to bet on technology. It looks like they will finish first ,” said analyst Gertler. when the government started racing to the finish line “.

According to CNN

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Source : Genk