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Solar Powered Aircraft Paves Way for Satellites


Solar Impulse 2, in flight, is paving the way for the next aircraft.The solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, hasn’t yet finished the journey around the world, but next steps are already being considered for new aircraft.

The team that built the plane are mulling over not only the fate of Solar Impulse 2 after its journey, but also what lies ahead for other planes like it. A feasibility study is being done to consider using a solar drone as the next evolution of satellites. In a perfect world, unmanned units could have half a year’s worth of up time, doing the work satellites currently do, and more, only using solar power as their energy source.

A co-founder of Solar Impulse, as well as one of the pilots, André Borschberg, mentioned this as a possibility in November. The project is almost at a “pre-design stage.” Solar Impulse 2 seems to be the inspiration, with the actual plan considering lighter and efficient aircraft. Solar drones could also be named “high-altitude pseudo-satellites,” or HAPS, which is also an acronym for high-altitude platform station.

The solar powered aircraft satellite would have a wingspan of up to 50 meters, and a payload of only 50 kilograms. Compare that to the current Solar Impulse, which has a wingspan of over 70 meters and a payload at up to 300 kilograms. HAPS would ideally fly in the stratosphere (a little over 12 miles off the ground) for up to six months.

The replacement satellite would be able to take off, reach the desired altitude, and land using solar energy. This would eliminate the need for rockets to launch satellite, as well as emissions associated with the launch. Reusable rockets have been developed as an alternative, but they are still costly.

The solar powered aircraft had completed about 60 percent of its journey before pausing to examine some issues. The flight had to be grounded due to battery damage through overheating. Currently, it is expect the trip will begin again on April 20.

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