Solar Impulse: Around the World in a 100% Sun-powered AirplaneS

The Solar Impulse is Bertrand Piccard's 100% solar-powered airplane. He plans to go around the world with it in 2011, but the pilots have started training today using an extremely complex virtual simulator that takes into account all its features. It has a 262-feet wingspan full of photovoltaic cells that power its 40kW engines. The Solar Impulse can move its 4,409-pounds carbon-fiber body at an altitude of 39,370-feet, while maintaining a 43.9mph average speed. Full specs and a picture of the team after the jump.

Solar Impulse: Around the World in a 100% Sun-powered AirplaneS

Solar Impulse Full Specs

AERODYNAMICS
Maximum altitude 12,000m
Outside temperatures + 80°C to -60°C
Maximum weight 2,000 kg
Average speed 70 km/h
Wingspan 80 metres Slightly more than the Airbus A380, in order
to minimise induced drag and to provide a
maximum surface area for the solar cells

PROPULSION
Power of the engines Max. 40 kW The average engine power made available
over a 24h period by the sun is comparable
to that used during the first flight by the
Wright brothers in 1903 (12 CV)

COCKPIT
Environmental control
and life support system
Elimination of CO2 and humidity
generated by the human body
1 single pilot
Man-machine interface device Under development To provide the pilot with more detailed
information about the airplane's flight
characteristics than normally available on
traditional airplanes. This information could
be derived by other senses than sight and
hearing

MATERIALS & STRUCTURE
Essentially constructed from
carbon fiber.
sandwhich structure Using very thin materials with the lowest
possible densities
ENERGY MANAGEMENT
Batteries lithium , weight of 450 kg,
from 200 Wh/kg battery capacities

Solar cells monocrystaline silicon, 130 micron
thickness, about 250 m2 surface,
min 20 % photovoltaic efficiency
Ultra-thin and integrated in the wings

GLOBAL OPTIMISATION
Human parameters Sleep management, MMI
Energy parameters Capturing and channelling of the
energy, battery, engines

Trajectography parameters The met, hours of sunshine Several hundreds, even thousands of
parameters to coordinate in order to
develop a machine evolving in an area of
flight still unexplored today. In order not to
penalize the needs of propulsion, success
can only be achieved through optimizing
output and reducing overall weight.
Safety parameters Reliability
Mechanical parameters materials, mass
Aerodynamic parameters Quality of flight, loads, performance,
aeroelastic phenomena
Thermic parameters Radiation

With those features, the Solar Impulse won't beat the pants out of the Dreamliners, but it sure is one stunning airplane and one amazing challenge for Bertrand Piccard and his Number One co-pilot, André Borschberg.

Press Note [Solar Impulse via BBC News]
Flash animation [Solar Impulse]