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Power Transportation Science

Solar Impulse Airplane To Launch First Sun-Powered Flight Across America 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the guided-by-the-light dept.
First time accepted submitter markboyer writes "The Solar Impulse just landed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California to announce a journey that will take it from San Francisco to New York without using a single drop of fuel. The 'Across America' tour will kick off this May when founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg take off from San Francisco. From there the plane will visit four cities across the states before landing in New York."
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Solar Impulse Airplane To Launch First Sun-Powered Flight Across America

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  • At 43mph, they're entirely at the mercy of local weather conditions. And "without using a single drop of fuel"? Tish. Factor in the fuel used by the support crew as they fuss around it. Don't like that? Then let's see them do it without support.

    Even with fantasy efficiency, there's no mass-to-surface-area that could make this a commercially viable form of transport, ever. It's a beautiful folly, and an impressive exercise in materials science, and should be enjoyed on that basis. The PV aspect is e

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Friday March 29, 2013 @09:11AM (#43310791) Homepage Journal

      Even with fantasy efficiency, there's no mass-to-surface-area that could make this a commercially viable form of transport, ever. It's a beautiful folly, and an impressive exercise in materials science, and should be enjoyed on that basis. The PV aspect is essentially a gimmick though.

      I agree that we have reached the limits of technology. There will be no future innovation. The endpoint of humanities social and cultural evolution was yesterday.

      And it's fossil fuels from here on in.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I agree that we have reached the limits of technology. There will be no future innovation. The endpoint of humanities social and cultural evolution was yesterday.

        And it's fossil fuels from here on in.

        Strawman arguments are lies.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 29, 2013 @09:30AM (#43310913)

      At 43mph, they're entirely at the mercy of local weather conditions. And "without using a single drop of fuel"? Tish. Factor in the fuel used by the support crew as they fuss around it. Don't like that? Then let's see them do it without support.

      Even with fantasy efficiency, there's no mass-to-surface-area that could make this a commercially viable form of transport, ever. It's a beautiful folly, and an impressive exercise in materials science, and should be enjoyed on that basis. The PV aspect is essentially a gimmick though.

      Fine. Then use it as a crop duster. Hell, make solar-powered drones for that matter. Plenty of pointless demand for those damn things to justify the fuel savings (well, kind of).

      The point is not every form of flight is specifically designed to haul the obese (m)asses and their 200 pounds of first-world essentials around. Try opening your mind a bit as to some of the uses this kind of hardware could provide, especially autonomously.

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        haha, it couldn't carry the pesticide for crop dusting, the thing is practically useless.

        • by plover (150551)

          Of course it could carry the pesticide, but this aircraft is not designed for that. Lose the weight of one of the pilots, lose the weight of most of the batteries, and it would have plenty of lift capacity to haul several hundred pounds of payload.

          There's a different issue, though, and that is if a 208 foot wingspan plane is practical for dusting a field, and the answer is obviously no. But the same technology could be used in a smaller aircraft that carries a 40 pound sack of dust, and autonomously pilot

    • by magarity (164372)

      Even with fantasy efficiency, there's no mass-to-surface-area that could make this a commercially viable form of transport, ever

      It doesn't have to be commercially efficient for the government to use one as a 24/7 drone watching for dissidents.

    • by hey! (33014)

      This is how America has become a nation of creative eunuchs: myopic focus on near-term profit. Commercial viability? Why the hell would you expect a beyond the bleeding edge technological adventure to be commercially viable? Hell, Columbus' voyage was not commercially viable, although it ultimately brought fabulous weatlh to Spain. The Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk plane wasn't commercially viable, but it made the brothers rich men. The civilian space program was not initially commercially viable, it was

      • The intent of the Columbus voyage was to find a new commercial trading route to reduce time and resource expenditures involved in acquiring lucrative goods. It was an attempt to corner a market and become very, very rich.
        • by hey! (33014)

          Yes, but it was a stupid attempt that maritime experts (the Portuguese) wouldn't dream of considering.

          • The term is "venture". It was a venture project. It had a monetizing plan, whereas this has no monetizing plan.
            • by hey! (33014)

              It had a monetizing plan that was incorrect in almost every particular. The only virtue to Columbus' plan was that it convinced someone to underwrite his expedition, which was spectacularly poorly managed.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Absolutely. The Fleischmann–Pons device was not commercially viable, although it ultimately.... no, wait....

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      Who needs it for transport? This could be a good alternative to cell towers, weather satellites, and so on.

    • Just wait for their return flight...Oh wait, they go so slow that they couldn't fly it east to west. I can see it now. A flight from Vegas to LA would take 2 months, since they'd have to take the long way around the earth.
    • Wright's plane wasn't commercially viable too.

  • I'm sure the founders are hoping this idea will take off!

  • by theillien (984847) on Friday March 29, 2013 @08:48AM (#43310695)
    ...since the plane doesn't have fuel it can't crash and burn. It can only crash.
    • by QuesarVII (904243)
      Apparently you haven't learned the important life lessons from Family Guy. Even an amish wagon can explode when it crashes. The horses too.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      ...since the plane doesn't have fuel it can't crash and burn. It can only crash.

      It has a battery though, and it could be lithium-ion based...

  • I like the optimism. I love the plane.

    But the optimism is rather misplaced. Let's be realistic: by their own words, it takes wings the size of a jumbo jet's (A340) to hold enough solar cells to fly one person at 43 miles an hour, while also having to be extremely light. Even if we assume only needing half or a quarter of the duration/endurance, say 3 hours of night travel, or even no night travel so no batteries and just day time use on cell power, that's still a fairly large amount of cells taking up a lot

    • by CdBee (742846) on Friday March 29, 2013 @08:56AM (#43310731)
      But not as air transport. If it can fly without need for refuelling, it can stand in for a communications satellite, endlessly and automatically circling one spot above the cloud level
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        How do you deal with night?
        Sure altitude can be used to store power, gain altitude during day, glid down at night, but will that last the whole duration?

        • The same way it currently does, by storing power in the batteries during the day.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Which right now requires landing, so that clearly is not an option.

            • Where does it say that?

              TFA says "Excess energy is stored in 4 lithium polymer batteries that provide backup power for night flights."

              On the project website, it talks about gliding down during the night to conserve energy from battery usage, and cruising up during the day.

              I can't find anywhere that says it needs to land to charge its batteries.

              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                My mistake, you're right.

                Just so you know you're not supposed to read the article before commenting. It makes you look like a noob if you actually read the article.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              No it doesn't. What part of non-stop do you not understand?

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        ok, but how is it better than a satellite?

        rhetorical question, because i already know the answer. the satellite needs expend almost no energy to maintain position, whereas the aircraft needs to fly, and if something breaks it crashes. the main advantage is speed of deployment, thus lending itself as a temporary solution. but in the end, the satellite, unless completely unfeasible, is the superior solution.

        • by CdBee (742846)
          I was thinking in terms of temporary coverage - IE, hanging over the mountains of Afghanistan to give radio coverage to an operation in a valley, flying over a sports event to give fast uplink to media staff, trailing round-the-world yacht races for constant coverage and communications
      • by Eevee (535658)
        You've just rediscovered Stratovision [wikipedia.org]!
      • by csumpi (2258986)
        Given that there is no or very little wind.
    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday March 29, 2013 @09:04AM (#43310759)
      It amy not hae any practical value, but it does have PR value.

      Did Lindbergh, or Earhart do anything practical with their feats? Did Gagarin, or Glenn, or Armstrong?

      Not really. But they did keep the public's mind on things which otherwise it may not have. This can be used as a diversion, but it can also be used to help drive technology forward.

      Maybe some people decide to put solar panels on their house. Maybe it drives some investors imaginations into funding the technology (or the government) and advancing the art. Maybe some kid sees it and gets inspired. Years later he goes to Harvard and makes an advance that makes solar energy more feasible as an energy source.

      My point is, you cannot sit in your basement being all cynical, stroking your neckbeard, and saying it doesn't work, so there is no point. People NEED to get out and try. They need to capture imaginations.

      By the way, I do not mean to say that YOU have a neckbeard or live in a basement, but am talking about that general cynical attitude often found here. An attitude that I contribute to more often than I like to admit.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        their accomplishments actually did have practical value, showing it was possible to fly across the ocean. but they also didnt oversell what they did.

        and that's essentially what im saying, is that these guys are overselling their project; that solar power as a practical propulasion system has almost no place in airplanes, because the energy density and engineering design required to use it simply arent there.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          I've heard a couple of interviews with this guy, and they are not overselling. Not by any stretch.
          Theya re completelty upfromnt aout the realities.
          People like doing things oin the edge. The same guy piloting the place also did hot air balloon trips..around the world.

          " system has almost no place in airplanes"
          becasue what they learn can't be applied elsewhere?

          Stopping bitching becasue some is doing something adventurous.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        UM, billions of dollars comes from the practical application of technology developed for the Apollo mission. The Apollo mission as paid for itself more then 13 times over.

        • UM you say that with a lot of confidence. More that 13 times over? How precise is that? I think you'll find it's pretty hard to enumerate the value of technology transfer from the space missions. Most of it was pretty good tech for, er, space. Not so much really bled out into other sectors. It's all pretty hard to quantify and any estimates are pretty woolly.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      There is a solution to this;
      Use solar derived electricity to crack water, then use this combined with CO2 derived from whatever source you like to make jet fuel. Or just make biodiesel and refine that into jetfuel. If you can get away without having to meet the JetA specs it should not be that hard. Turbines are pretty flexible.

      An article about this tech:
      http://www.gizmag.com/air-fuel-synthesis-gasoline-from-air/24739/ [gizmag.com]

      Yes, it is a very lossy process, but the energy density of liquid hydrocarbons is hard to

      • by wbr1 (2538558)
        If you are going to crack water, then just use fuel cells with the H and O. Why reduce efficiency by adding another process in the middle?
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Because turbines can be bought now, find me such a fuel cell that I can buy. Also storing H and O completely destroys the entire energy density storage of my plan. To make matters worse storing H2, is a huge PITA. It embrittles metal, leaks through everything and likes to pool in structures under roofs making it a hazard in buildings not designed for it.

  • Now we're talking.
  • Solar powered aircraft has been available for the better part of a century now. It's called sailplanes. And they're probably more practical.
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      that's pretty much what these "solar craft" are, a glider with wings big enough to hold enough solar panels for a teeny tiny motor. a non-practical farce that does not advance any state of the any art.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Why is it a farce? hmm?

        You people must be the most boring people in the world in your real life. Someone decided to do something adventurous. You people just whine.

        They aren't doing making any claim, and the admit that you can't make a practical PV aircraft. These are people who like to travel the world in hot air balloon.

        "that does not advance any state of the any art."
        why does it have to?

        That said, what cells are the using? what did they learn from wiring it up? How are the dealing with the harsh conditio

  • First? I think not. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 29, 2013 @10:53AM (#43311517)

    http://www.solar-flight.com/sunseeker/index.html

    During August of 1990, The Sunseeker crossed the country in 21 flights, with 121 hours in the air.

    First this century, perhaps.

    • by UTF-8 (680134)

      They didn't mention that it was the first. There is one difference though. This solar plane can fly all night. The Sunseeker had no rechargeable batteries to do that.

    • by skine (1524819)

      My first thought it that it might be the first non-stop cross-country flight. Not so.

      "The cross-country tour will begin in the Bay Area and end in New York, with stops in Phoenix, Dallas and Washington DC in between. Solar Impulse will also land in either Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis, with the plane and its pilots set to stay in each locale for about a week to ten days to talk about the project before moving on."

      http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/28/solar-impulse-across-america/ [engadget.com]

  • I remember that this was a driving motivation for the technology. If a solar powered aircraft could launch cell tower processing and hold it aloft long enough on battery power (at night), then this would be a great idea. Especially in rural parts of the country where being able to shift positions to service local needs would be great.

  • San Francisco to New York? Why no return flight from New York to San Francisco? Pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with major jet streams moving http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_stream [slashdot.org]"> west to east. How do they get back to the west coast? Disassemble the plane and drive it back in an 18 wheeler?
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      Oh no, the Apollo missions launched from a southerly location in the US to increase the boost from the earth's rotation! The worthless cheaters! We haven't really put a man on the moon until we've launched from Maine, and picked up burgers at a drive-through in California on the flight out!

      • by csumpi (2258986)
        Oh, sure, except there was no asterisk there saying that we can get a man to point B, but not back to point A.

        Hey, look, the plane is awesome. I wish them luck, they will need it with 43 mph air speed.
        • by femtobyte (710429)

          Alright, so a closer analogy would be saying Charles Lindbergh's non-stop transit of the Atlantic in a fixed-wing plane in 1927 was a sham, because he relied on the West to East jet stream --- Dieudonné Costes was the first to manage the more difficult Paris -> New York return flight in a heavier-than-air craft in 1930.

  • I think not. 40hp is 40hp. At full power the motors are using almost 30,000 watts of power. That's assuming 100% efficient motors. They didn't say what cruising power requirements are, but 30,000 watts is a lot of power to move 1 person at 43mph. Even 7,000watts would be a lot of power to move one person at 43mph.
  • Solar impulse is an over hyped, overly complex sailplane. That it uses new materials and can stay up all night is not an astounding accomplishment. The endurance record for an unpowered glider is over 56 hours and the distance record is 3,008 kilometers. Look ma no solar panels.

    I get frustrated when I go to the Solar Impulse web site. It is like wading through vats of PR slime trying to find real information on how the aircraft really works. What are they trying to hide? Case in point, they say they have re

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