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Earlier this year, the concept of solar-powered aviation was further propelled from its proverbial runway, testing many limits that had not been previously realized in the realm of energy-efficient transportation.
Earlier this year, the concept of solar-powered aviation was further propelled from its proverbial runway, testing many limits that had not been previously realized in the realm of energy-efficient transportation. However, as is the case with virtually every achievement since the dawn of civilization, the question remains the same: Where do we go from here?
From May–July 2012, Solar Impulse-with the help of several sponsors, including Bayer MaterialScience, the subsidiary of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Bayer-successfully completed a series of flights (known as Crossing Frontiers) as part of a round-trip journey from Switzerland to Morocco, setting several world records, according to the World Air Sports Federation, in the solar-powered subcategory (including for free distance along a course, and for straight distance with predeclared waypoints). In addition, the mission included the first solar-powered intercontinental flight linking Europe to Africa when Solar Impulse’s HB-SIA plane crossed the Strait of Gibraltar.
When the pomp and circumstance associated with such a scientifically progressive mission eventually subsided, the team looked to the future. In the next couple of years, the project’s cofounders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will set their sights on piloting the first fuel-less aircraft to circumnavigate the globe. As a result, Bayer MaterialScience made the decision to expand its contribution to the project, according to an Oct. 2, 2012, Bayer press release.
“We are now deepening our involvement as we go from materials supplier to system leader for the new cockpit,” said Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience, in the release. “The Bayer Cross will be displayed on the aircraft in the future as a visible symbol of our commitment to this excellent partnership.”
The previous mission was a good way of determining how the HB-SIA’s capabilities would handle the elements and different components of the flight. Subsequently, ideas as to how the project could be improved were considered, and are now being implemented in the construction of the newer model, HB-SIB. In comes the assistance of the partner companies. Several of Bayer MaterialScience’s contributions will include a high-performance insulating material and carbon nanotubes to help reinforce HB-SIB’s structural components.
“The significantly larger size of the new cockpit shell and Solar Impulse’s tight weight budget meant that we had to further optimize the weight through design measures and targeted choice of materials,” explained Martin Kreuter, Solar Impulse project manager at Bayer MaterialScience, in the Bayer release. Another innovation announced by Kreuter was the use of Baytubes carbon nanotubes in carbon fiber-reinforced structural components in order to reach more savings both regarding material and weight.
Solar Impulse and Bayer MaterialScience announced at a joint news conference in Payerne, Switzerland, that the new solar aircraft is expected to be completed in late 2013 and will conduct test flights the following year. The round-the-world flight is scheduled to take off in early 2015. The mission is expected to take 20 flight days, with five to six needed just to cross the Pacific and two to three for the Atlantic crossing, according to Borschberg. Including the necessary breaks, the solar-powered aircraft’s journey from west to east will take a total of three to four months, according to the release.
The scope of possibilities associated with energy-efficient operations is certainly not limited to transportation. The Solar Impulse project can help to potentially serve as a model for a variety of different industries, including future pharmaceutical manufacturing practices and other operations as well.