After completing a record-breaking 4,480 mile trans-Pacific flight from Japan to Hawaii earlier this week, the sunlight-powered Solar Impulse 2 has been grounded — and unfortunately, the plane will not be able to continue its round-the-world journey until next year.
Shortly after landing at Hawaii’s Kalaeloa Airport this past Monday, news broke that the plane had suffered some damage during its flight, but the extent of that damage wasn’t disclosed. Today, however, in a blog post published on the Solar Impulse website, the team has announced that the problems will likely take several months to repair.
So what happened, exactly? Well, as it turns out, the plane’s batteries weren’t properly equipped to handle the tropical climate it was flying through. High temperatures and humidity caused them to overheat as the plane made its ascent, and once that happened, the plane’s over-insulated battery enclosure reportedly made it impossible to cool them back down.
“The damage to the batteries is not a technical failure or a weakness in the technology but rather an evaluation error in terms of the profile of the mission and the cooling design specifications of the batteries,” the team’s blog post reads. “The temperature of the batteries in a quick ascent/descent in tropical climates was not properly anticipated.”
The overheating was apparently so severe that it caused irreversible damage to the aircraft’s batteries — bad enough that the repairs probably won’t be completed until April 2016. While the necessary fixes are being made, the Solar Impulse engineering team also has plans to upgrade the plane’s heating/cooling system so that this problem doesn’t surface again in the future.
For the time being, the Solar Impulse 2 is posted up in the hangar at Kalaeloa airport, and will remain there until all the necessary work is performed. The team anticipates that its round-the-world mission will resume sometime in early April, taking the plane from Hawaii to the West Coast of the US on the 9th leg of the journey. From there, Solar Impulse will make its way across the U.S. to JFK International Airport in New York before making the Atlantic crossing to Europe, and finally returning its point of departure in Abu Dhabi.
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