SunPower SolarStratos Electric Plane Can Fly To Edge Of Space

JUN 23 2018 BY MARK KANE 15

SolarStratos is the new all-electric solar-powered aircraft that by 2020 will try to reach the stratosphere in the world’s first piloted stratospheric solar flight.


The two-seater will need to go up 80,000 feet above earth and SunPower is going to supply the project with 22-24% efficient Maxeon solar cells to make it possible.

Besides the 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon cells, the SolarStratos will be equipped with a 20 kWh battery that should enable it to continue its mission for more than 12 hours without sun. The electric motor power will be just 32 kW, but the aircraft is pretty light (just 450 kg).

It will be interesting to see the electric aircraft flying twice as high as a commercial airliner’s typical cruising altitude.

SolarStratos President and Pilot Raphael Domjan said:

“SolarStratos has an opportunity to push the limits of what we think is humanly possible and prove that renewable energy has the capacity to power our lives while preserving our planet. We are fortunate to energize SolarStratos with SunPower’s industry-leading solar technology and look forward to further showcasing the value of innovative and reliable solar solutions for the world to see.”

More on the project:

“A passionate, award-winning adventurer with experience bringing record-breaking projects to fruition, Domjan was the founder and the expedition leader of PlanetSolar – also powered by SunPower solar technology – which became the first boat to sail around the world on solar energy alone in 2012. This September, Domjan will attempt his first world-record flight, reaching 33,000 feet in a SolarStratos prototype plane.

SunPower® Maxeon® solar cells were selected for SolarStratos aircrafts because they are highly efficient, durable, lightweight, and about as thin as a human hair. On the next generation SolarStratos plane, SunPower’s 24-percent efficient cells will be incorporated into the wings and horizontal stabilizer to power an electrical engine and charge a 20-kilowatt hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery for energy supply when the sun is out of sight.

Next Generation SolarStratos Plane at a Glance   

  • Length: 8.5 meters – about 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on an American football field
  • Wingspan: 24.8 meters – about 81 feet, or the length of two standard city buses
  • Weight: 450 kilograms – about as heavy as a grand piano; to make SolarStratos its lightest, the cabin will not be pressurized, requiring pilots to wear astronaut suits that are pressurized by solar energy
  • Engine: 32-kilowatt electrical engine, about one-third the size of what would power an electric vehicle
  • Energy: 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon solar cells, each reaching 22 to 24 percent efficiency
  • Batteries: One 20-kilowatt lithium ion battery
  • Autonomy: Self-generates electricity with solar to power the plane for more than 12 hours

“Soaring at such heights requires an unprecedented level of solar performance and durability, making SunPower’s unique solar technology a natural choice for SolarStratos,” said Tom Werner, SunPower CEO and chairman of the board. “The plane features the same extraordinary cells as those found in our high efficiency solar panels powering homes and businesses here on land – a true testament to our innovation as a solar leader.”

In addition to supporting SolarStratos and the solar boat PlanetSolar, SunPower has a pioneering legacy of powering unique solar projects. In 1993, SunPower’s high-efficiency solar cells drove a Honda solar car to win the World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia a full day ahead of the second-place finisher. The company also worked with NASA to develop the unmanned Helios solar plane that flew to a record altitude of 96,863 feet, also powered by SunPower high-efficiency solar cells. Most recently, SunPower helped Solar Impulse 2 – a single-seater solar plane – complete its groundbreaking flight around the world with zero fuel, the first for an aircraft of its kind.”

Categories: General


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15 Comments on "SunPower SolarStratos Electric Plane Can Fly To Edge Of Space"

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So stick an ion engine on that sucker and it could fly the rest of the way to space.

That would have just a few Newtons of force.

Yes, but the power is free. The plane just builds up more and more speed until it reaches orbit. Who cares if it takes a month?

Ion engines are not good for escaping the gravitational feild of Earth (or any other planet for that matter). You would be lucky to get an extra few meters per second of Delta-V, to reach low Earth orbit you need 9800 meters per second of Delta-V

“about 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on an American football field”

Does the average American really need to be told that 30 feet = 10 yards?

Or is it that everything has to be measured in ‘football fields’?

“Or is it that everything has to be measured in ‘football fields’?”

Yes. Didn’t you get the memo? 😉

It is not even measured in football fields, it is measured in handegg fields. The only real football is played at the world cup right now.

This has not happened yet, not even the first attempt to get to 33,000 feet (sailplanes (gliders) have gone considerably higher) and is being “reported” here as some kind of real thing. Please use some editorial judgement. I hope they have good pressure suits; above about 63,000 ft. the water in the body at 98F boils.

But if they get up to the edge of space, will they communicate with the grays? 😉

It’s amazing that you managed to read right past such rather obvious qualifiers such as “will try to”, “will need to”, and “should enable it to”.

The problem isn’t the article; the problem is inattention or a lack of reading comprehension by one reader.

The motor is 32 kW, and the battery is 20 kWh… 20 kWh / 32 kW = 0.625 hours = 37 minutes… only 5% of the 12 hours they say it’ll last.

I get that you don’t need to run it at full power to maintain altitude, but really? It only needs to run at 5% to maintain altitude? Just ~1.7 kW is all you need to keep a 450 kg plane at an altitude of ~30 km above Earth?

Not sure about the uplift thermal il there, but it pretty much look like a glider and those seems to get higher on thermal.
And thermal glider are probably more green energy than this battery powered craft.

May be you don’t need full power

The air is really really thin at 80,000 feet So no the electric motor can not run at full load.

High altitude operation like that mentioned in this article needs pressurized dielectric protection and shielded electronics due to the high voltage of the electrical systems, low pressure atmosphere that increases the risk of static discharges due to lack of dielectric insulation and higher cosmic radiation levels that create interference in the electronics. Also the speed of sound is greatly reduced at altitude so a propeller would not only have less thrust capacity, but also must be strong enough to handle prolonged operation in the supersonic threshold.