Next stop outer space, as Solarstratos plane successfully passes first test flight

PAYERNE, SWITZERLAND (MAY 5, 2017) (REUTERS) – A unique prototype plane, covered with 22 square metres of solar panels and with a 24.8 metre wingspan, Solarstratos successfully achieved on Friday morning (May 5) its first test flight on the Swiss air base of Payern, the result of three years of work.

A two-seater solar plane, weighing 450 kilograms, Solarstratos is meant to fly up to 80,000 feet, or 25 kilometres, into the stratosphere by 2018.

For its first test flight, which lasted around eight minutes, Solarstratos went up to an altitude of 300 metres, and despite the absence of sun, the test flight was successful.

Other test flights are now expected to follow, with the medium altitude flights planned to happen this summer.

The Solarstratos adventure started in 2014, initiated by Raphael Domjan, who is also the plane pilot, and who was the creator of Planet Solar, the first solar-powered boat to do a circumnavigation in 2012.

When it will go up into the stratosphere, the aircraft will not be pressurised, for weight reasons, so Raphael Domjan will then have to wear a spacesuit powered by solar energy.

A technical prowess, the whole Solarstratos project aims at promoting renewable energies, be it solar, or other type of renewable energy, by showing that at-first unbelievable challenges can be achieved thanks to renewable energy.

On Friday morning, Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard, the father of another project involving a solar plane, was there to attend the test flight.

In July 2016, Piccard and his friend Andre Borschberg completed the first fuel-free flight around the world with a solar-powered aircraft, returning to Abu Dhabi after an epic 16-month voyage.