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Swiss Innovation: To the Edge of Space

Mirko Zambelli Photography by Swiss Embassy in The Hague.

By Mirko Zambelli, Minister, Embassy of Switzerland to  the Kingdom of the Netherlands

After completing a round-the-world trip in his solar catamaran PlanetSolar in 2012, Swiss adventurer Raphaël Domjan was wondering what on earth to do next. The field of innovations in eco-transportation was becoming more competitive. Another Swiss project, the manned solar airplane Solar Impulse, was underway and managed to fly around the world in 2016. Since Domjan also wanted to take to the air, and his colleagues were making their mark with long-distance horizontal flights, he decided to go vertical – to the edge of space.

At the invitation of the Swiss Embassy and with the support of Presence Switzerland, Domjan and CEO/chief engineer of SolarStratos, Roland Loos, visited TU Delft on October 19 to present their project. Addressing the knowledgeable audience gathered for his evening lecture at the aeronautical faculty, Domjan explained how his ultra-light, solar-powered airplane SolarStratos, only 8.5 metres in length, will be capable of flying to a height of 25,000 metres.

“SolarStratos is a symbol of the pioneering spirit, of the dream, of innovation with the aim of demonstrating the potential of renewable energies and energy efficiency”, he explained.

The team brought along a model of the delicate-looking airplane, whose shape is reminiscent of a dragonfly. The faculty’s students had already taken the opportunity to quiz Loos about the technical details during a preceding lunchtime lecture, and guests had the opportunity to meet the team during a reception following the presentation.

Domjan’s flight to the stratosphere is scheduled for next year, and will take off from an as yet to be determined location near the equator, where the sun’s strength is at its maximum. Twenty-two square metres of solar panels on SolarStratos’ long wings are the only source of energy for the electric motor. Given the lack of oxygen and extreme cold at that height, Domjan will wear a space suit, which has been provided by Russian partners. The flight is expected to take about five and a half hours.

DELFT – TU Delft L&R – Presentatie Solar Stratos. – FOTO GUUS SCHOONEWILLE

It is this adventuresome spirit of innovation and international cooperation that keeps Switzerland at the top of international innovation rankings. As a small country with few natural resources, it has a long tradition of fostering new ideas to develop the economy. Its research landscape, too, is an open space – currently, two thirds of the scientists working in Swiss universities come from abroad, and hundreds of young Swiss researchers work and gain experience outside their own borders.

In a true spirit of collegiality, and given that SolarStratos is technically a two-seater, the pilot of Solar Impulse and Domjan’s friend, Bertrand Piccard, will join Domjan for an initial flight to break the altitude record for a manned solar-powered flight, which Piccard hat set at 9,235 metres. After that, Domjan will make his riskier solo trip to the stratosphere. “Today, adventures and explorations are not done to discover unknown continents or to beat records,” he said. “Their aim is to protect the environment and its biodiversity. In this way we can restore real meaning to the terms progress and innovation.”


For more information, please visit https://www.solarstratos.com/en/



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