The solar-powered plane that is traveling around the world has broken new world records and crossed the Pacific Ocean without using any fuel. Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) recently flew from Hawaii to California, which is a major milestone that demonstrates the capabilities of solar technology. The trip wasn’t easy, and there were several major delays as pilots and project partners Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg attempted to cross the Pacific.
First, they were grounded for a month in China while they waited for a clear weather forecast. Then in June, 2015, they had to make an unexpected landing in Japan, and the plane’s wings were damaged by the wind. After the plane was repaired, Borschberg made history by completing the most challenging portion of the trip in July—staying awake for five days and nights to travel from Japan to Hawaii in the longest ever solo flight. The plane is equipped with 17,000 solar cells that harvest energy from the sun, while lithium batteries store enough power to fly at night. Unfortunately, during that long flight, the battery temperature increased so much that the damage could not be repaired.
Since then, engineers have been working on improving the heating and cooling process and replacing the batteries. On April 21, 2016, Si2 left Hawaii and landed at Moffett Airfield in California, finally completing the solar flight across the Pacific Ocean. The plane broke world records for distance, speed, duration, and altitude in the electric airplane category and altitude (gain of height) in the solar airplane category. Now that Si2 is back in commission, Borschberg and Piccard will resume taking turns piloting the rest of the trip around the world.
Solar Impulse showcases that today exploration is no longer about conquering new territories, because even the moon has already been conquered, but about exploring new ways to have a better quality of life on earth. It is more than an airplane: it is a concentration of clean technologies, a genuine flying laboratory, and illustrates that solutions exist today to meet the major challenges facing our society.