| Click for the Finfacts Ireland Portal Homepage |

Finfacts Business News Centre

 Irish Economy
 EU Economy
 US Economy
 UK Economy
 Global Economy
 Asia Economy

Finfacts changes from 2015


How to use our RSS feed

Follow Finfacts on Twitter

Web Finfacts

See Search Box lower down this column for searches of Finfacts news pages. Where there may be the odd special character missing from an older page, it's a problem that developed when Interactive Tools upgraded to a new content management system.


Finfacts is Ireland's leading business information site and you are in its business news section.


Finfacts Homepage

Irish Share Prices

Euribor Daily Rates

Global Cost of Living

Irish Tax - Income/Corporate




Content Management by interactivetools.com.

News : Innovation Last Updated: Mar 26, 2015 - 7:31 AM

10 questions about Switzerland's Solar Impulse aircraft – answered
By Susan Misicka, swissinfo.ch
Mar 18, 2015 - 3:56 AM

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

By now you may have heard about the Solar Impulse – the Swiss solar aircraft attempting to circle the globe without a smidgen of jet fuel. How is that possible? What’s the point? And how do the pilots go to the bathroom? Here’s the low-down on this high-flying project.

The Solar Impulse is a completely solar-powered plane. Unveiled in 2009, the Solar Impulse made history as the first solar aircraft to fly through the night in 2010. That was also the plane that flew across the continental United States in 2013. Engineers back at the base in Payerne, Switzerland, then fine-tuned the aircraft.

The current plane, presented in 2014 and dubbed Si2, is larger and more powerful than its predecessor. In March 2015, it kicked off its quest to fly around the world in several stages – a journey of about 40,000 kilometres with stops in 12 destinations.

How big is the plane, and how many people can it carry?

With a wingspan of 72 metres, it’s a bit wider than a Boeing 747Jumbo Jet. But instead of carrying 400 passengers, the Si2 only has room for a single pilot in its 3.8 m3 cockpit. It weighs 2,300 kilograms, about as much as an SUV.

Who are the pilots?

Two pilots take turns flying this plane, just as they did with the prototype. Initiator Bertrand Piccard, who comes from a family of explorers and scientists, is known for making the first round-the-world balloon flight. CEO André Borschberg is an engineer, a former Swiss Air Force pilot and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There’s also a test pilot, Markus Scherdel, who helps make sure the Si2 is airworthy.

How does it work?

The wings are covered in 17,248 solar cells, which feed the plane’s lithium polymer batteries. These in turn help the Si2 to generate and store enough energy to power its motors to fly for longer periods. Extremely lightweight materials also contribute to the aircraft’s energy efficiency. However, it can only fly in fair weather – and is sensitive to high winds. Meteorologists help the Solar Impulse team to find the best weather windows. Departures can be delayed for days if there’s rain, which was the case in India in mid-March.

Can it really fly in the dark?

Thanks to the batteries, yes. During the day, it climbs to its maximum cruising altitude of 8,500 metres to capture the most rays. To conserve energy, it works its way down to 1,500 metres in the evening, and stays there overnight. The maximum speed is 90km/hour. The flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, for example, took 13 hours – something a normal plane could do in about 90 minutes.

How long can the Si2 fly?

In theory, and under the right weather conditions, the Si2 could remain in perpetual flight, but that would be a bit much for the pilots and crew. So far, they’ve flown for as long as 26 hours. Distance-wise, the Si2’s longest flight was 1,468km – a world record for a solar plane with a pilot. Crossing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is expected to take five consecutive days and nights.

Because the temperature can range from -40°C to 40°C, the pilots have several layers of clothing. They also carry a week’s supply of water and specially-prepared food, plus oxygen for use at the higher elevations. In an emergency, they can bail via parachute and float away on a life raft.

How do the pilots sleep or go to the bathroom?

Autopilot and a special seat make both activities possible. The pilot can recline and move around somewhat to keep his circulation going. If nature calls, he can convert the seat into a lofty portable potty. Except for 20-minute power naps, they’ll hardly get more than two or three hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Piccard, who is also a psychiatrist, uses self-hypnosis techniques to cope with that. Borschberg meditates and does yoga. Physicians as well as a yoga guru will be monitoring them from the ground.

How many other people are involved?

About 90 people are part of the Solar Impulse team – including 30 engineers, 25 technicians and 22 mission controllers. The folks at mission control, located in Monaco, are in constant contact with the pilot and the plane. Data, including hundreds of technical parameters, is transmitted via satellite. For every destination, a ground crew shows up in advance to prepare for the arrival as well as the next departure.

Who’s paying for all this?

This “idea born in Switzerland” has an overall budget of CHF150million (€140million). Its many partners include the Swiss government, which granted Solar Impulse the use of two airbases. The mission control centre is funded by Prince Albert of Monaco’s environmental protection foundation. In addition, numerous companies and institutions have contributed their expertise and high-tech materials. The names of the Si2’s main and official partners are written on the plane.

What’s the point?

Indeed, this technology could hardly replace commercial aviation. It’s not meant to.

“Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. We want to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering spirit, to encourage people to question what they’ve always taken for granted. The world needs to find new ways of improving the quality of human life. Clean technologies and renewable forms of energy are part of the solution,” says Piccard.

The round-the-world route includes several destinations where the Solar Impulse team will take the time to introduce the plane and promote its message of the power of renewable energy.

Related Articles

© Copyright 2015 by Finfacts.ie

Top of Page

Latest Headlines
Digital Taylorism: Amazon's chief rejects depiction of "soulless, dystopian workplace"
Most surviving startups do not grow; Tiny number powers jobs engine
Despite euro dip China & US remain most competitive manufacturing nations
Business startup rates up in most OECD countries led by Australia and UK
NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet
Energy subsidies at 6.5% of global GDP; Commodity prices to remain weak
US startups rely on personal savings, debt; Venture capital funds less than 1%
Europe produces 13 $1bn+ "unicorn" startups in one year; London is Europe's digital capital
Irish-based firms raised €120m in VC funding in Q1 2015; Some top recipients Irish for tax purposes
Ireland: Fourth highest 25-34 year old ratio of third-level graduates in developed world: So what?
Business dynamism/ employer firm startups in US secular decline
Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany are on top
Education systems failing to provide students with skills for success in 21st century
US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland have best higher education systems
Handbook of Service Innovation: Ireland moving up the value chain?
Switzerland revives silk industry that thrived for two centuries
Sales of Irish tech firms create 300 millionaires in 15 years and no scaleups
Apple warns of 'material' tax payments from EU's Irish tax investigation
Apple earnings surge 33% on higher price and iPhone sales jump in China
Big Pharma's internationalisation of R&D to China
The dangers of romanticising entrepreneurs despite key role
UK and Irish business R&D heavily reliant on foreign-owned firms
Silicon Valley and the development of the silicon microchip - Part 2
Ireland: Innovation with or without R&D/ scientific breakthroughs
UK government most open/ transparent in world; Ireland & Greece lowest ranking in Europe
10 questions about Switzerland's Solar Impulse aircraft – answered
Silicon Valley loses its silicon; Typical household income stagnates - Part 1
21st century skills are 18 century skills + a computer
Growing ICT sector in Europe accounts for 5% of employment
Should Ireland copy Singapore's scientific research investment plan?
Startups vs Scaleups: 4% of UK startups have 10+ employees 10 years later
Irish patent filings at European Patent Office fell in 2014
Facebook's maze of privacy settings maybe in breach of European law
Apple to invest €1.7bn in Irish and Danish data centres
Silicon Valley insider warns of dodgy $1bn valuations of private companies
Israel's Startup Nation not a jobs engine; Nor is Irish high tech
Established industries often beat new technology investment returns
Ireland: Noonan said EU to drop Apple tax case; Now expects court case
Irish R&D Tax Credit: No evidence of rising business innovation; Facts don't matter
Apple reports biggest profit of a public company in history