People, Travel

Swiss Firm to Use Solar Power for Space Tourism

The first flight is expected to take off in 2018.
The first flight is expected to take off in 2018.

SolarStratos, a Swiss startup, has unveiled an airplane that uses solar power to lift people to the edge of space and return them gently to earth.

The company revealed its “solar plane”, a 28 foot-long aircraft that will be the first manned aircraft entirely powered by solar energy to rise above the stratosphere and bring passengers close to the stars. The solar power airplane has a wingspan of 81.3 feet and weighs 992 pounds.

It will take two hours to ascend to the edge of space some 15 miles above the earth. SolarStratos will stay there for 15 minutes before beginning a three-hour descent back to earth, Clean Technica reported.

The company says it expects to launch its first flights for commercial passengers in two to three years, but at a pretty steep price. Each mission will cost $10 million.

“This opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space,” says project lead Raphael Domjan, who designed and built the first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe four years ago.

Space tourism is expected to become big business in the future. Spurred on by Elon Musk’s dream of establishing a colony on Mars within the next decade and SpaceX’s innovative reusable rockets, experts predict the cost of space travel will fall precipitously in coming years.

Musk thinks eventually a seat on a Mars bound transport could cost as little as $100,000.

In order to keep the aircraft lightweight, instead of a pressurized cabin, pilots will be required to wear pressurized space suits to deal with the -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Typically, commercial planes tend to fly in the lower region of the stratosphere, staying at altitudes between 6 and 12 miles. The SolarStratos plane reaches an altitude of 15 miles above Earth. As a comparison, the International Space Station is 220 miles above Earth.

Traditional aircraft require large, environmentally dangerous amounts of helium or gas to traverse the distance to the stratosphere, Inverse reported.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Bloomberg earlier this year he sees the space tourism industry “blossoming over the next couple of decades into a viable commercial market". He thinks the International Space Station could be joined in low earth orbit by dozens of hotels and companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research.

“I think it’s a fascinating area for us,” he said.

But with SolarStratos' new plane, the wait may not be that long as the company is targeting a 2018 launch of its flights.

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