“André, what will you do after Solar Impulse?”

Monday 11th July 2016

A question I try not to think about, as I am sure my worldview will change after completing the flights around the world. And I am guessing the opportunities will certainly be different by that time as well!

This being said, I have been thinking about how to best leverage the technology and expertise we have developed at Solar Impulse. Two things are for certain at this point:

  1. The aviation world will become more focused on electric technologies. Think about the efficiency of our electric motors: 97% efficiency which means only 3% energy loss compared to 30% efficiency to 40% energy loss at best for a combustion engine. As we find ways to store electric energy, electric propulsion will increasingly become the norm. I am very happy to see that large groups such as Airbus and NASA are starting to work on electric propulsion. The ball is rolling!
  2. As Solar Impulse 2 has demonstrated that we can reach perpetual flight using the sun as its continued source of energy, we will soon see solar drones flying in the stratosphere.

Solar Impulse is of course very well positioned to contribute to the next generation of unmanned solar airplanes. When considering technological progress today, these unmanned aircrafts will be able to fly much higher than they can today, avoiding air traffic and bad weather. They will be able to fly in extremely low air density and remain in the air both day and night, essentially taking over the need for satellites in a cheaper and more sustainable way. Parallel to SpaceX and Blue Origin, they could be brought down from the stratosphere to perform repairs and upgrades.

The Solar Impulse airplane is not ready for retirement after this round-the-world mission. It has been designed to fly a total of 2000 hours. By the end of the mission, we will have only flown 700 hours, and therefore still have 1300 hours remaining. We are, therefore, considering using the plane for further testing on solar technologies with a test pilot to learn how to make the plane fully autonomous.

An airplane of this size and weight flies differently than other types of aircrafts. Finding the right way to make it fully autonomous, especially in turbulent conditions, will be challenging for all companies working on unmanned aircraft. This could potentially require several prototypes until systems can prove they are fully operational and safe.   

There are different ways in which we could use Si2 to learn more about the clean technology we have today and take them a step further. We may also continue doing solar flights in different parts of the world to spread the message that we can use clean technology not only in aviation, but on the ground as well. Moreover, we have announced the launch of an International Committee of Clean Technology to continue pushing for more efficient use of technology and to provide guidance to corporations and governments.

André Borschberg