"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

The Dawn of an Age of Solar Flight?

From the 1950s to the 1990s, engineers explored the limits of what was possible in aviation.

In so doing, however, they hit inevitable barriers of cost effectiveness.

We’d made our point with elaborate manned space missions but had no financial incentives to keep blowing fortunes on them.

The concorde, a supersonic jet liner made by the Europeans proved so expensive that not even rich people could keep it commercially afloat.

Super expensive space shuttles with nearly 1/60 odds of blowing up on take off haven’t proved worth replacing.

The age of exorbitant spending just to prove a point is over.

First, new technologies and engineering projects must be cost effective.

And this brings up an obvious frontier in flight if we want to be as energy effective as possible.

Solar aircraft.

It would seem we’re approaching a point where batteries can store enough solar power to get through the night or in bad weather.

Just imagine the larger implications of this…

How long until people actually start living in the air to get away from the power of governments and rent seekers?


Swiss solar plane

One response to “The Dawn of an Age of Solar Flight?

  1. Eric Patton January 9, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Weight is a serious issue if you are going to be flying. Nuclear set-ups give much more output versus the weight of batteries and panels for solar energy.

    Most of the nuclear reactors used for power generation today are pressurized water reactors that do not re-use their fuel. It creates much more waste and would add to the weight of required fuel by up to a factor of 1000 (not to mention storage of spent fuel), versus a more modern design that wouldn’t need refueling as often.

    An alternative would be a molten salt reactor, which can reuse its fuel and is much more efficient. If for some reason the core is breached, the liquid salt would quickly expand and solidify back into salt chunks, trapping the radioactive material in the salt itself. It is still highly radioactive but insoluble in water, which makes it much easier to clean up.

    The Molten-Salt Reactor designs that are being considered for civilian use were originally prototypes for aircraft/vehicle power because they are so much lighter and simpler than the pressurized light water reactors currently in use in most of the world:

    Thorium is also abundant on the moon. However if we used a reactor in space we would have to modify the failsafe system we currently use which is based on gravity, a frozen saltplug which melts and drain the solution in the event of power loss or overheating. There would also be less issues with turbulence using a reactor versus panels, the exercise equipment in the ISS has to be partially free floating so that when it is used it doesn’t bounce the rigid panels. The Mars rover has to be shut down during night or during low-light weather.

    Space probes usually use solar because low to zero gravity nullifies the weight issue, while being close to the sun relative to say the Voyager probe means they can collect plenty of power. Solar’s big advantage is that it is less technically demanding and doesn’t require starting fissile material. Things like spray-on solar panels are a much faster fix, but it won’t be very useful in the area from Jupiter outwards where solar power intake decreases 92-96%.

    Edit to add: The Curiosity is powered by the decay of non-fissile Plutonium. The Spirit, Opportunity and PathFinder use solar panels.

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