SolarStratos, a Swiss company based in Yverdon-Les-Bains, is currently building a solar-powered aircraft that can fly off to the edge of space.
The company expects the aircraft, aptly named SolarStratos, to be completed by 2018. It will have a 24.8-meter wingspan and will weigh around 450 kg. It will be covered by 22 square meters of solar panels, and will only have two seats. Currently, the prototype's two 19-kilowatt motors can only produce 50 horsepower; clearly not enough to lift the aircraft. Domjan admits it is a big challenge at this point as to the aircraft's development.
Raphaël Domjan, initiator and pilot of SolarStratos, says the goal is to "be the highest plane ever." The aircraft will run 100% on renewable energy, and the company is developing a way to keep the energy level efficient; something that as of now, only fossil fuels can provide.
Domjan adds that the project is more of an advocacy for the company, because producing a successful solar-powered aircraft would mean the "potential of clean technology." At that point, current technology would have been "pushed to the limit," he adds.
The plan for 2018 is for SolarStratos to reach 25,000 meters in two hours and 30 minutes. Then as the stratosphere is reached, 15 minutes will be spent before descending back to Earth. Domjan has likened the experience to Icarus, who in Greek mythology lost his wings in trying to escape from Crete. But Domjan is quick to add, "I hope I will not lose my wings."
SolarStratos is currently developing the project through sponsorship. Since March 2014 when the company was founded, it has already raised $5 million from public and private funders. This first $5 million went to building the aircraft's body. A second $5 million is currently needed to complete the hardware and the internal system.
The first test flight for SolarStratos is scheduled for the second quarter of 2017, and Domjan will be flying with his friend, fellow Swiss and adventurer Bertrand Piccard. Piccard, along with Brian Jones, were the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe.
At the moment, the company is offering seats for the SolarStratos 2018 ride at $60,000 per person. No one has taken a booking just yet.
"We can change and we can be optimistic. It could be a huge opportunity for (hu)mankind to change; to use what we get from the sky for free," Domjan says.