There are endless science fiction stories about a future where man manages to venture into the depths of deep space with amazing technology...it might take a while for this to become reality, for now we must be satisfied with short trips for super rich! Current travel offers include parabolic flights that allow you a few moments of zero gravity by making use of particular flight paths, flights on military jets up to Mach 3 that allow you to fly up to 25,000 m, then there are suborbital flights that reach 110 km of altitude and finally there is the orbital flight that lets you dock at the ISS station but only after training and if the mission doctors agree. But in the future we will have a new and, above all, sustainable way to get closer to the stars.... Raphaël Domjan, 44, born in Neuchâtel in Switzerland, first achieved success with the solar vessel MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, making the first round of the world powered entirely by solar energy and now faces a new challenge, it's time to conquer the stratosphere. Although real space only begins at about 100 km in height, the objective of the Mission SolarStratos project is “[...] to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility of reaching beyond what fossil fuels can offer. Electric and solar vehicles are among the main challenges of the 21st century", this was how Raphaël Domjan, pilot and project creator, described the project to fly in the atmosphere between 15 and 60 km above the ground.
The SolarStratos flies over the stratosphere (solarstratos.com)
First steps towards tourism among the stars
The SolarStratos, the first two-seater commercial aircraft powered entirely by solar energy built by Elektra-Solar GmbH, measures 8.5 m in length with a wingspan of 24.9 m, weighs 450 kg and the 32 kW/ 2200 rpm electric motor is powered by 22 square metres of solar cells connected to a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery that guarantees more than 24 hours of charge. After several flight test sessions, the decisive phase took place. A journey of about 5 hours during which, after an ascent (of about 2 hours), the aircraft flies over the stratosphere for 15 minutes before returning to earth. To overcome technical problems due to excessive weight, the cockpit of the SolarStratos is not pressurised and therefore it is necessary to wear a space suit that is able to withstand the very low temperatures of high altitude (-70°). In addition, this project demonstrates what can already be done with electric motors powered entirely by renewable energy. The next step will be to design commercial flights with larger aircraft, let's see... We are probably witnessing the first cautious steps towards future tourism among the stars. While science is dreaming of colonising Mars, others, as we have seen, are already working on journeys beyond the stratosphere. The sky is no longer the limit.
The author: Alessandro Di Bacco