Last week we talked about how a clean luxury holiday sounds like an oxymoron! If a holiday in itself is an indulgence, then imagine a luxury flight into space as a touristic activity! If any of us have seen a space craft blast off into space, just the thunderous roar will tell us how much of fuel is being burnt to lift it into space.
Launching rockets into space is expensive to the environment. While we know that burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases, that lead to global warming resulting in extreme climate events, it is said that a single NASA space shuttle launch used to produce 28 tons of carbon dioxide. Every rocket launch includes pumping around 300,000 gallons of water to ensure that the water dissipates the massive vibrations. Then there is the cost of moving the rockets, and keeping hundreds of tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen cool. All this makes for a monthly carbon footprint over 900 times that given off by the solid rocket boosters in one launch. To add to this, 23 tons of harmful particulate matter settle around the launch area each lift off, and nearly 13 tons of hydrochloric acid kill fish and plants within half a mile of the site. In all, the environmental cost per launch is massive.
Enter Mission SolarStratos. While last week we salivated over the solar-powered Soel Yacht2, this week we will fire up our excitement and launch into space, with SolarStratos, which will be the first Solar-Powered plane to journey into space.
The team behind this is PlanetSolar. They succeeded in making the first ever solar-powered round-the-world trip in 2012 on the largest solar-powered boat in the world. After having conquered the waters, they are moving into air and beyond into space. The founder of PlanetSolar, Raphaël Domjan and his international team want to now demonstrate the amazing potential of solar energy, with Mission SolarStratos.
The SolarStratos is an 27.8 ft long and 81.6 ft wide solar-powered plane that will fly into space and back. Over the course of two hours in 2018, the two-seater plane will, ascend to a height of 75,000 ft, penetrating the stratosphere and becoming the first even manned solar plane to do so. Designed by Calin Gologan of Elektra-Solar GmbH, the plane is powered by a 20kWh lithium battery and a 32kW engine that propel the four 7.2 ft propeller blades. After the ascent, the plane will spend 15 minutes in the stratosphere before making the journey back to Earth. The entire round trip is expected to take five hours. The pilot of the plane will wear a spacesuit as the cabin will not be pressurized, and they will have to cope with low pressures and very cold temperatures.
"It seems to me that it is necessary to go even further and overtake what has been achieved with fossil fuels", says Raphaël Domjan. This project if successful will be another example of how to push the limits and abilities of solar technology, and for humanity to stop burning fossil fuels.
Using solar energy in space is not new. Other than for propelling a rocket into space, solar energy has been practical for spacecraft and satellites operating in space. For example, Juno, Magellan, Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Observer used solar power as does the Earth-orbiting, Hubble Space Telescope. The Rosetta space probe, launched 2 March 2004, used its 690 sq ft of solar panels to go as far as the orbit of Jupiter. While all this is very day life for space scientists, getting an aircraft to leave earth and come back using solar power is what is astounding as a possibility.
Perhaps, over time, we may all pile into a solar powered commercial aircraft, fly into space, feel the vastness of space up close while we sip champagne and then come back safely, with stars in our eyes. We don't know as yet how much this clean, silent, flight into fantasy will cost us, but we are bond to return with stars in our eyes.
The writer is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, an entrepreneur and an expert in applied sustainability.