Swiss engineers just unveiled a plane that can reach the edge of space using only solar power

Now that a solar-powered plane has successfully made its way around the globe, Swiss engineering firm SolarStratos wants to take things to the next level. Sometime in the next couple years, the company wants to use solar power to take you to the edge of space.

Surrounded by a crowd eager to penetrate the stratosphere, Raphael Domjan, SolarStratos pilot and creator of solar powered boat PlanetSolar, unveiled the plane that’s expected to have the environmental footprint of an electric car.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility to achieve above and beyond what fossil fuels offer,” Domjan said in a press release. “Electric and solar vehicles are amongst the major challenges of the 21st century.”

The SolarStratos team expects the commercial, two-seater plane to hit the skies in 2018 without the use of “large quantities of energy or helium” it’d usually take to reach space. “Our aircraft can fly at an altitude of 25,000 meters,” Donjam added, “open[ing] the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space.”

Until it’s journey, the SolarStratos will continue to live in its hangar at the Payerne airport Aeropole site in Switzerland. Over the past few months, the team in Switzerland has been readying the plane, which has a length of 8.5 meters and a wingspan of 24.9 meters. It’s faced a number of tests during development, including stress, heat, and electronics run-throughs.

The initial mission piloted by Domjan will be five hours in length, with two hours to ascend into space, fifteen minutes of enjoying the stars, and three hours to get back. He’ll use an astronaut’s pressurized suit while traveling, as the aircraft is not pressurized — that’d make it too heavy. Domjan’s 2018 journey will be a first for solar powered aircrafts.

With today’s unveiling of the SolarStratos itself, Domjan and his crew are one step closer toward touching the stars.

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