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Solar power isn't just powering rooftops and solar farms these days. The company, which touts its solar panels as the most durable and efficient on the market, is looking for other applications. It would be difficult to find one as impressive as the upcoming Mission SolarStratos expedition, which will be powered by its 22-24% efficient Maxeon ™ solar cells.
SolarStrato is an electric airplane that has the flight characteristics of a low friction glider. It has extremely long thin wings and a very small profile. However, it is equipped with an electric motor, a very efficient front propeller, and wings and tail covered with around 24 square meters of solar panels. Inside it fits up to 2 drivers in fighter configuration and what appears to be a 20kWh battery (about the same size as the 125-mile Hyundai IONIQ).
Interestingly, this aircraft will not be pressurized, which will require pilots to wear spacesuits that also run on power from solar panels and are stored in the battery.
Some statistics from the press release (below):
Length: 8.5 meters - approximately 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on a football field
Wingspan: 24.8 meters - approximately 81 feet, or the length of two standard city buses
Weight: 450 kilograms, almost as heavy as a grand piano; To make SolarStratos the lightest, the cockpit will not be under pressure, requiring pilots to wear astronaut suits that are pressurized by solar energy
Motor: 32 kilowatt electric motor, about a third the size of what an electric vehicle would power
Energy: 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon solar cells, each of which achieves an efficiency of 22 to 24 percent
Batteries: One 20 kilowatt lithium ion battery
Autonomy: self-generates electricity with solar energy to power the plane for more than 12 hours
The taking of Electrek:
SunPower has been part of the consolidation of the solar industry in recent times amid lower profits, tax uncertainty and squeezing margins. However, the partnership with SolarStratos is probably more marketing than a real new business model.
That said, and the reason we care about it, is that we are slowly moving towards electric flight becoming a reality for long-haul aviation. Right now, electric aviation is limited to short flights with limited charge, but with the improvement of battery technologies, stronger and lighter building materials, and theoretically solar wings, the range could be improved for where electric flight makes sense to. many more applications.
Hair-thin, nearly weightless, and durable solar panels that can deliver 22-24% efficiency are an important part of that mix.
If this can go 60,000 feet and fly all day, we're on our way.
Original article (in English)