SunPower is one of the world’s most innovative and sustainable energy companies, with more than 30 years of proven experience. Their headquarters are in Silicon Valley, California but they have customers across the globe and they are changing the way our whole world is powered. Their latest undertaking is a fully solar-powered aircraft called the SolarStratos that will fly twice as high as any commercial jet currently does.
SolarStratos President and Pilot Raphael Domjan said:
“SolarStratos has an opportunity to push the limits of what we think is humanly possible and prove that renewable energy has the capacity to power our lives while preserving our planet. We are fortunate to energize SolarStratos with SunPower’s industry-leading solar technology and look forward to further showcasing the value of innovative and reliable solar solutions for the world to see.”
The company is also changing the way the whole world thinks about renewable energy…at least, that is their goal. SunPower doesn’t just want to power buildings and farms. They want to use their durable and efficient solar panels for all the types of applications available. They believe that anything that can and needs to be powered, should be powered by natural sources, like the sun.
SunPower has a pioneering legacy of powering unique solar projects. Their high-efficiency solar cells are the driving power for many amazing vehicles. In addition to now supporting the airplane SolarStratos, the company has previously supported the following projects:
- The solar boat PlanetSolar
- A Honda solar car that won the World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia (a full day ahead of the second-place finisher)
- NASA’s unmanned Helios solar plane that flew to a record altitude of 96,863 feet
- A single-seater solar plane called Solar Impulse 2 that completed a groundbreaking flight around the world with zero fuel (the first for an aircraft of its kind)
Although, even with all these wonders under their belt, it may be hard to find a more interesting application for their solar panels than this upcoming Mission SolarStratos expedition. SolarStratos is the new, all-electric, solar-powered aircraft with the mission to reach the stratosphere in the world’s first piloted stratospheric solar flight. It will fly twice as high as a commercial airliner’s typical cruising altitude without using a drop of fossil fuel.
It has the flight characteristics of a low drag glider and fits up to 2 pilots in fighter configuration. The aircraft will reach this altitude of 80,000 feet above earth using SunPower’s 22-24% efficient Maxeon solar cells to make it happen.
Apart from the 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon cells sprawled across its tail and wingspan, the SolarStratos will be equipped with a 20 kWh battery. The battery will enable the aircraft to continue its mission, even without sun, for more than 12 hours. The electric motor power is just 32 kW, but the aircraft is pretty light (just 450 kg) so that is enough. It definitely helps that the solar panels are as thin as a hair, almost weightless, and yet incredibly durable.
Furthermore, the plane will not be pressurized in order to keep the weight of the aircraft at a minimum. That will require that the pilots wear space suits which will be powered by the energy from the solar panels and power stored in the battery. This mission will be an extreme challenge for the pilot as the aircraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, averaging -70°C.
Tom Werner, SunPower CEO and chairman of the board said:
“Soaring at such heights requires an unprecedented level of solar performance and durability, making SunPower’s unique solar technology a natural choice for SolarStratos. The plane features the same extraordinary cells as those found in our high-efficiency solar panels powering homes and businesses here on land – a true testament to our innovation as a solar leader.”
Next Generation SolarStratos Plane facts and figures from the SunPower press release:
- Length: 8.5 meters – about 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on an American football field
- Wingspan: 24.8 meters – about 81 feet, or the length of two standard city buses
- Weight: 450 kilograms – about as heavy as a grand piano
- Engine: 32-kilowatt electrical engine, about one-third the size of what would power an electric vehicle
- Energy: 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon solar cells, each reaching 22 to 24 percent efficiency
- Batteries: One 20-kilowatt lithium-ion battery
- Autonomy: Self-generates electricity with solar to power the plane for more than 12 hours
What they hope to achieve with this project is a proper demonstration of the potential of solar power. They want to illustrate the capacity of renewable energies on a grand scale. The future needs to be cleaner than it is now. If they can make it possible to fly long distances on solely solar power, it will make sense to apply electric flight to many more applications, such as shipping cargo and much more.