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World's First Solar-Propelled Blimp To Cross English Channel 87

Posted by timothy
from the all-I've-got's-this-sunny-afternoon dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Can a blimp propelled entirely by solar power cross the English Channel? We're about to find out! Nephelios, the world's first solar blimp, was built by Projet Sol'r — a collaboration between students at engineering and technical schools in France. Now, almost a year after its debut (and a year after it was supposed to launch), the helium-filled airship is ready for action, with its inaugural flight set to take place next week. The blimp is covered in semi-flexible solar cells that can generate up to 2.4 kilowatts — enough to keep the blimp moving at 25 mph as it crosses la Manche."
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World's First Solar-Propelled Blimp To Cross English Channel

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  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:15AM (#32687544) Homepage Journal

    Can a blimp propelled entirely by solar power cross the English Channel?

    Well not in winter obviously

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by xaxa (988988)

      It's 21C here in London, rising to 25C this afternoon. 30C at the weekend. I think they've chosen good weather for it :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:19AM (#32687550)

    Let's fly our sunlight-powered flying machine in the most overcast place on earth!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:47AM (#32687634)

      Hey, if it works there....

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I believe that would be Hilo, Hawaii...
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I believe that would be Hilo, Hawaii...

        Well, I don't know how accurate it is, but this link [answers.com] doesn't include anyplace in Hawaii as the cloudiest place on Earth.

        Scotland, however, is well represented with 2 of the top 10, which matches their reputation. :-P

    • by mrjb (547783) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:12AM (#32688380)

      Let's fly our sunlight-powered flying machine in the most overcast place on earth!

      Seems perfectly reasonable to me.
      First of all- the blimp is not going to crash- helium, not solar power, is what makes it fly. Solar power is just used to propel it.
      Second, it's possible to fly above the clouds.
      Third, it's going to fly across the channel. Even if it crashes, it's most likely to land on water.
      Fourth, aircraft regulations require avoiding densely populated areas if at all possible so even if it crashes on land, it will most likely miss any houses or other important buildings.
      Fifth, if against all odds said blimp crashes on land in a populated area, it's filled up with helium, not with hydrogen- so it won't burst into flames and as such it would be a lot less eventful than the Hindenburg. Which was a commercial craft anyway (with paying passengers on board), rather than a somewhat experimental craft attempting to cross the channel.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Yeah, and if it does crash just think about all those folks wandering around talking in really high pitched voices.
      • if against all odds said blimp crashes on land in a populated area, it's filled up with helium, not with hydrogen

        I can hear the high pitched chipmunk screams even now.. :)

      • It's possible to fly above the clouds with a blimp - at least low clouds - but generally airships travel at low altitudes. I think the record is at 20000 feet or something, a lot lower than commercial airliners.

        • It's possible to fly above the clouds with a blimp - at least low clouds - but generally airships travel at low altitudes. I think the record is at 20000 feet or something, a lot lower than commercial airliners.

          Huh? All of the altitude records for manned and unmanned aircraft are held by balloons and blimps. The only things that go higher than blimps are rocket-powered. Current record manned ballooning record is 113,740 ft.

      • ....about the Hindenburg anyway.

        Hydrogen was not the problem. The entire body of the craft was painted in a mix of powdered aluminum, iron oxide, gun powder, and a chemical similar to rocket fuel as a solvent. It's actually amazing that it didn't explode sooner.

        Further, over half the passengers on the Hindenburg survived the wreck. Almost NOBODY survives a plane wreck.

        For every reason but speed, zeppelins are a superior idea to planes whose time has definitely come again.

  • Top Gear (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JazzXP (770338) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:28AM (#32687574) Homepage
    As long as it's not like the blimp they tried to use on Top Gear. Big plans, didn't really go so well (winds being quite nasty for them).
    • Big plans, didn't really go so well

      Ambitious - but rubbish!

    • are you referring to the one May flew in the episode where he was flying over restricted airspace?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SydShamino (547793)

      Crossing the English Channel with your special contraption doesn't hold any interest or awe for me any more. If Jeremy Clarkson can do it in a car boat of his own design, then any idiot can do it. Big deal.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:29AM (#32687580) Journal
    Wow, and I thought people did crazy thinks to sneak over the border into the US. It's ok, guys, you can have another chance to get out of your group in four years! It's not the end of the world! Just don't try to mess with the Irish luck next time, they invented the four-leaf clover, you know.
    • Wow, and I thought people did crazy thinks to sneak over the border into the US.

      I suspect that unless there's a special "stealth" mode, folks looking to cross the border would be flying in "pinata" mode.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      They do even crazier things to get out of the US. Like going trough the TSA.

      And since when is the UK the US?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by LaRainette (1739938)
      Dude, to go to England we take the train. It lasts less than 20 minutes.
      And don't make fun of this : my Grad School participate. Else I might cry.
      • lol, no, no, I am not making fun of this, the blimp is cool. I am making fun of your soccer team. It feels good to have someone else's team be the one to be made fun of for a change. :)
  • by skine (1524819) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:45AM (#32687628)

    "We're about to find out!"

    I think that these are the words that every scientist strives for.

    They don't come out too often, but when they do...

  • Surely... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jmanamj (1077749) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:49AM (#32687646)

    The mammoth airship measures 72 feet long and 18 feet wide and has a nylon and polyethylene aluminum frame.

    Surely, with an airship so large, the earth will be plunged into darkness as it passes overhead!

  • In the past France gave the world the Lebel rifle, Areva, Train à Grande Vitess, Minitel ect.
    How is the next generation going to embrace entrepreneurship via ~
    You should have just taken an existing blimp and put a solar panels on it or something.
    Less of Homer and more Herbert Powell.
  • now that's quick! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sholdowa (242332)

    3HP and it'll do 25mph. Impressive.

    • For something with that aerodynamic profile as well!

      I think they factored in wind speed as well though...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by IflyRC (956454)
      This is the future - an F22 Raptor with supersonic cruising speed uses too much oil and isn't green enough. We'll be dogfighting balloons in the 5HP military version.
  • Oh Yeah? (Score:3, Funny)

    by sonicmerlin (1505111) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:25AM (#32687944)
    I bet it can't record video at 720p like my cell phone!
    • Oh whoops wrong thread. Drat... uh.... next time we have a solar eclipse we can blame it on all the solar-powered air balloons sucking up the sun's rays!
  • It needs to be filled with the free range cow farts for extra green points.
  • Solar-powered? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by muzicman (1148101)
    Did they use solar power to create the helium? Since the helium produces the lift, to be solar-powered it would also need to produce the helium. Running a couple of propellers isn't new. Check out the Helios aircraft from NASA for a true solar-powered aircraft. http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/history/pastprojects/Helios/ [nasa.gov]
    • Re:Solar-powered? (Score:4, Informative)

      by selven (1556643) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:13AM (#32688606)

      Did they use solar power to produce the metal and/or carbon fiber for that plane? If not, then by your argument the plane isn't solar powered either. The helium in the blimp is not being consumed like a fuel source, it's just a structural component like whatever other materials encase it. Helium just happens to passively have negative relative mass compared to the medium the blimp is flying in, which lets the blimp fly.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      I think most helium is produced by stellar fusion of hydrogen. (May have been a previous star that went supernova and seeded the nebula that created the sun and the planets billions of years ago.

      • by Deadstick (535032)
        I think most helium is produced by stellar fusion of hydrogen.

        Most helium, yes. Most helium used on Earth, no.

        Nearly all the helium produced in the twentieth century came from the ground under Amarillo, Texas where it was created by fissioning of alpha-emitting ores. This near-monopoly on helium, and Germany's deployment of military airships in WW1, resulted in an embargo on helium which explains why the Hindenburg was inflated with hydrogen.

        AFAIK, Amarillo is the only city in the world that has a mon

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Lift != power. In a winged aircraft the lift is provided by pressure differential which comes from its speed, in a blimp the lift comes from the fact that helium floats in air. It's not powered by helium; the power is for forward movement.

    • by Deadstick (535032)

      So, a sailboat is not wind-powered because it would still float if the wind weren't blowing?

      AERODYNAMIC:AEROSTATIC=HYDRODYNAMIC:HYDROSTATIC, in SAT terms.

      rj

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's time for target practice

  • welcome our flight-capable, solar-powered overlords.
  • I'm waiting for the day that oil runs out and slow-boat solar is the preferred means of goods transportation. That will the age of sky truckers riding blimps across the land.
    And that will give rise to sky-pirates, and my dreams will be complete!
    • by Gertlex (722812)

      Ya. We have unlimited supplies of helium.

      Oh, wait, no we don't.

      Hydrogen could be done fairly safe these days, though, I think?

      • by H0p313ss (811249)
        Unobtanium FTW
      • by Catbeller (118204)

        Hydrogen burns straight up, and anyway you can build the lifting chamber with thermally isolated cells.

        We drive next to rolling bombs every day and never notice.

        The Hindenburg was coated with metal oxide paint; it was like igniting thermite. The flames you see in the video are mostly paint burning. Hydrogen burns with a nearly transparent flame.

  • Solar dirigible balloon? And to whom they are necessary, would make solar cars is better. And how to you robots-transformers [ucozinfo.net]? It is my article, only it in Russian.

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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