Category: Newsletters

Fully charged !

Fully charged and ready for action

SolarStratos kicked off 2021 with renewed energy! Despite the pandemic and current health measures, the entire team was able to meet via video conference to review the achievements of 2020 and to prepare and plan for the coming months. Top of the agenda was the resumption of test flights in the spring and the ongoing training for Raphaël Domjan, our pilot and man behind the project.

A more efficient aircraft

Our solar aircraft is currently with our partner, ElektraSolar, in Germany, where it is undergoing some improvements ahead of the next round of test flights. By enhancing the aerodynamics and increasing battery life, it should be possible to reduce the total weight of the aircraft while ensuring maximum safety. Quite a challenge for our technical team!

New electrical circuit

SolarStratos will be equipped with an upgraded electrical system and new batteries. These modifications will allow more power from the batteries and will improve their heat management.

In addition, a new display providing more details to the pilot on the general conditions of the electrical system, will be installed in the cockpit.

Come and find us at EXPLORiT

A few weeks ago, we announced the incredible opportunity for the PlanetSolar Foundation and SolarStratos to set up a permanent stand at the EXPLORiT exhibition – well it’s done, we’re there!

From April, visitors will have the chance to learn about the history of the first circumnavigation in a solar-powered boat and to experience the projects and eco-adventures carried out by Raphaël Domjan and his team. Plus, there will be the added bonus of experiencing the flight simulator that our eco-explorer used to prepare for the first flights aboard SolarStratos.

The stand will also be home to the Race for Water Foundation, which took over the PlanetSolar boat.

Link to EXPLORiT website : https://explorit.ch/

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021!

Ground Vibration Test

The long awaited ‘Ground Vibration Test’ was carried out in Payerne earlier this month much to the delight of the technical team. It was managed by a German expert and enabled the team to collect a maximum of data relating to the aircraft’s potential, particularly during flights at high altitude.

Preparing for next season

The winter break coincides with some scheduled maintenance and development work ahead of next season, so SolarStratos will travel to our partner, ElektroSolar, in Germany, where the batteries and management system will be replaced, along with a few other things.

New official partner: Active Solar joins our eco adventure

We are delighted to announce a new partnership with Active Solar (Active Niche Funds SA), the leading investment fund specialising in the global solar energy sector. Launched in 2008, the Lausanne-based company is an investment fund open to the public, with daily liquidity. It was the first to specialise in the solar sector.

The arrival of Active Solar represents a significant opportunity, not only for the success of the SolarStratos mission, but also for the promotion of the economic potential of solar energy.

Raphaël Domjan and the SolarStratos team are thrilled with this partnership and extend their thanks to the leaders of Active Solar for their trust. The SolarStratos team also extends its gratitude to the rest of its partners for their continued support. They are delighted to continue this eco adventure with them!

Happy New Year celebrations!

Raphaël Domjan and the SolarStratos team members wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021!

In these troubled times, we would like to thank you for your loyalty. 2020 has been a complicated year and we are sincerely grateful for your continued support. Fortunately, together, we have succeeded in setting two world records which have allowed us to convey our optimistic message about a world that is more respectful of the climate and the environment.

We look forward to seeing you again next spring, take good care of yourselves and à bientôt!

StratoTime

As a thank you, we offer you a retrospective of our 2020 activities.

 

Night flight

Raphaël completes his first night flight

Winter, with its short days and long nights can take a toll on motivation, but not so for Raphaël Domjan! He seized on the opportunity and braved the darkness to practice night training flights.

He completed his first night flight out of Geneva airport, one of SolarStratos’ valued partners.

A second life

We were delighted to announce in our previous newsletter that we will have a presence at EXPLORiT, a centre dedicated to children from zero to 12-years-old and their parents that wish to discover the world of science and technology. The centre will open this winter.

The PlanetSolar simulator, fresh from the first ever world tour powered by solar energy, will sit at the heart of the SolarStratos area at the Explorit centre and – we hope – make young and old dream!

We are looking forward to this new eco-adventure with our friends from EXPLORiT.

EXPLORiT Website

Two new partners

We are happy to announce the arrival of two new partners. The first is the National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research (ONERA). It is the foremost French research centre in the aeronautics, space and defence sector.

The second, Segula Technologies, is a French group that has activities in 30 different countries. It is a world leader in engineering and places innovation at the heart of its strategy. Segula Technologies leads projects from analysis to industrialisation and production, in fields that range from automotive to aeronautic.

We welcome them and thank them for their trust. Raphaël Domjan and the SolarStratos team also take this opportunity to thank all the partners for their support throughout the eco-exploration, particularly during this difficult and uncertain period. Thank you all for being with us.

Busy on all fronts!

SolarStratos to the edge of space…

While test flights and world premieres are already history, the team has been busy on a number of different fronts. One of the more prominent ongoing projects is a documentary called “To the edge of space”, directed by Stéphane Chopard that chronicles the SolarStratos project since its inception. Co-produced by RSC Film Productions and Gedeon Programs, the first instalment will be delivered to Planète+ and RTS at the end of the year for broadcast in 2021.

“The objective of the documentary is to present this extraordinary human adventure against its backdrop of technology and innovation,” explained Stéphane Chopard. “The script writing and editing are currently underway in Paris. The story starts from Raphaël Domjan’s dream and depicts the different stages of the adventure, its challenges, successes and doubts. By telling the story, the documentary seeks to demonstrate that technology available today can allow for a dream of a better world.”

 

…to the road, in an electric car!

“A CONTRESENS – Voiture électrique, la grande intoxication ?”

This was the tantalising title of an evening hosted by Raphaël Domjan and the PlanetSolar Foundation at the beginning of October at the Arcades cinema in Neuchâtel.

The meeting was scheduled to coincide with the documentary of the same name, directed by Jérôme Piguet, following a lengthy investigation by pioneer, Marc Müller, who has done multiple world tours in an electric car and is a specialist in renewable energies for the Federal Office of Energy. In his documentary, alongside his team from Nous Production, he counters the lies told about the electric car.

After the documentary was aired, the debate was heated. Raphaël Domjan, Marc Müller and Jonas Schneiter exchanged their points of view on the development of the electric car and the audience was able to shape its own opinion on electric mobility and its future. It was a constructive and enriching evening and our thanks go to those that joined us. The documentary can be viewed on Swisscom TV.

SolarStratos at EXPLORiT

Just a stone’s throw from the SolarStratos headquarters at the heart of the Y-Parc technology centre, ‘Kindercity’ is due to open under the EXPLORiT banner. Kindercity is a concept dedicated to children from 0 to 12-years-old and parents wishing to discover the world of science and technology. It is scheduled to open this Autumn 2020.

PlanetSolar Foundation and SolarStratos will be making the most of this incredible opportunity to set up their own area where they will be able to share world premieres achieved on water and in the air! It will also be an opportunity to highlight the potential of renewable energies as demonstrated by Raphaël Domjan and his projects in Switzerland and abroad.

The SolarStratos team wishes Explorit every success and looks forward to the opening!

Link to EXPLORiT: https://explorit.ch/fr/yverdon

EXPLORiT building in Y-Parc/Yverdon-les-Bains (copyright AFCO Management SA)

 

What a summer !

A look back at an incredible summer

Raphaël and the SolarStratos team take a look back at an extraordinary period that will be remembered for a long time to come!

No sooner had the SolarStratos team welcomed test pilot Miguel A. Iturmendi to the Payerne base in early July, than the aircraft was in the air for its first round of test flights! The team held its breath as the plane took off, we were confident, but nonetheless, it is always a nerve-wracking moment. Everything had been prepared for the flights to go as planned, and they did!

Next came the first tandem flight with Raphaël Domjan onboard the experimental solar plane, and before we knew it, the big day was upon us – our two world premieres: the first jump from an electric plane and the first solar free fall. An extraordinary moment! The team was focused and confident as SolarStratos took to the sky, the friends, family and partners gathered at the Payerne base for the event, were tense as they waited for the jump. When Raphaël’s parachute opened, the collective sense of relief was palpable and as Raphaël and the plane touched down safely, the applause was deafening. It was a very intense moment, but we did it and SolarStratos will go down in the history books.

After just a moment to enjoy this dual achievement, the technical team got back to work to prepare for Raphaël to swap with Miguel and take control of the plane while the test pilot would sit in the back seat and act as an instructor.

All in all, it has been an exceptional summer. As a group, we have achieved everything that we planned and in the most glorious manner! Miguel A. Iturmendi has gone home to the United States and will return next year for another round of flights and new challenges.

Clippings

The two world premieres were a huge global success in terms of image. We were hoping for good exposure, but we never imagined such a reaction! Here are two numbers that make us proud and demonstrate the interest the world has in the development of this type of experimental project.

  • 140+ TV stations picked up our two world premieres and broadcast them around the globe
  • 158,800 likes on the BBC News Instagram page that has 16 million subscribers

 

Partners evening

As a thank you to our partners for being present at our side and for having faithfully supported us during this extremely difficult period of COVID-19, we organised a gathering at the base in Payerne. A good time was had by all and we did a performance review and looked at upcoming deadlines.

First raid in an electric plane

100 years after the Aéropostale pioneers set up their French airmail company, the Raid Elektropostal was launched! The event is organised with several stages that take the pilots from Lausanne to Aix-en-Provence via Toulouse and Marseille.

PlanetSolar Foundation is a partner of this eco-adventure that promotes respect for the environment, and the Foundation chairman – our very own founder and pilot of SolarStratos, Raphaël Domjan – flew several stages for the Raid, aboard a Pipistrel Velis type aircraft, the first EASA certified electric aircraft.

A perfect tribute to the pioneers of Aéropostale!

Two world premieres!

First tandem flight onboard SolarStratos

This month we are celebrating two world premieres AND achieving our first tandem flight with Raphaël Domjan onboard with test pilot Miguel A. Iturmendi. The pair flew for 48 minutes with Raphaël sitting behind Miguel, watched closely by our partners, Club Members and the media!

This was a conclusive experience and decisive in the pursuit of scheduled test flights and upcoming world premieres.

World premieres: first jump from an electric aircraft and first solar free fall

SolarStratos has set its first world premieres! Watched by a large group of media and guests, Miguel A. Iturmendi flew Raphaël Domjan to an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,520 metres) from which the eco explorer performed the first parachute jump from an electric plane and the first solar free fall in history.

After just a few minutes suspended beneath the parachute, Raphaël landed at Payerne Aeropole followed 20 minutes later by the solar plane which then returned to the SolarStratos base.

This flight and these successes are of central importance in the history of the SolarStratos project. “The success of this first jump from an electric plane and this first solar free fall are the result of tremendous work by the whole team and our technical and scientific partners. This is an important step in the development of more environmentally friendly aviation”, said Raphaël Domjan after landing.

Thirty flights achieved

SolarStratos has notched up over 30 test flights, including almost 20 since flights resumed in July. The average flight time is around 30 minutes, while the longest was 51. The flights to date have been carried out by our test pilot accompanied by Raphaël Domjan at an average of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres).

Raphaël Domjan at the controls of the plane

After flying as a passenger, Raphaël Domjan took control of the plane and flew his first training flights under the test pilot’s instruction. Objective no. 1 is to take control of the plane and to become familiar with the cockpit.

A successful maiden flight!

First of the test flights

On 23 July, at dawn, SolarStratos took to the skies above Payerne once again for the first of many test flights – such great news for the whole team and its supporters! July was a busy month of preparations leading up to this moment: at the beginning of the month, test pilot Miguel A. Iturmendi, ran some low and medium speed tests on the tarmac at the base in Payerne. These tests were conclusive, so the technical team made various adjustments to prepare the aircraft for its first flight in 2020.

In parallel, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation issued the permit to fly and so, on Thursday 23 July, SolarStratos rolled out of the shed and took off for a low altitude flight lasting 20 minutes! Miguel A. Iturmendi, one of the team’s test pilots, was at the controls and relished the opportunity to familiarise himself with the solar prototype. On landing, he was very happy with the first experience: “I got some good feedback. SolarStratos feels like a big and very good glider. The aircraft’s climbing performance is good, better than I imagined. And you have to be vigilant when landing as the plane needs a long landing distance.”

This first flight and the upcoming test flights are designed to settle technical details in order to be able to gently increase the altitude and duration of the flights.

StratosTime

Here are the details of the maiden flight from the point of view of the technical team:

Thursday 23 July 2020: it is still dark at the Payerne airport. Raphaël Domjan, Roland Loos, test pilot Miguel A. Iturmendi and the entire technical team meet at the SolarStratos base.

0515: technical briefing and reminder of the planned flight manoeuvres
0530: radio and weather checks with the control tower and the chief flight officer
0540: review of synchronisation procedures, turn on measuring instruments (in particular the GPS) and sensors (flight recorder)
0545: pre-flight checks and inspection of the plane
0550: SolarStratos leaves the hangar
0600: engine system check
0630: radio check with the control tower, gate is opened
0645: taxi to runway for take off
0700: take off and first flight lasting 20 minutes
0720: soft landing and return to the base

This maiden flight was a moment of celebration for the technical team who were watching everything from the airport terrace and a happy moment for Raphaël who exclaimed: “We are back in the air! Thanks everyone! It’s awesome!”

Next came a debrief for the test pilot and the technical team, followed by a well-deserved coffee and croissant!

Welcome to our new partner

SEGULA Technologies is a French engineering group that leads projects in many different fields, including aeronautics. They are joining SolarStratos as partner and the team welcomes them onboard and thanks them for their support!

Thank you!

The fact that we are able to fly again is thanks to your unconditional support and we are delighted to be able to share these exceptional moments of our eco exploration with you. Thank you all for being at our side and for your continued support. We look forward to continuing this SolarStratos Mission together and are excited to be at the very beginning of a magnificent adventure.

We wish you a wonderful summer and look forward to seeing you again soon!
Raphaël Domjan and Roland Loos

Final tests before take-off !

The plane passes the inspection

Our solar aircraft is poised for take-off. With all the modifications at last complete, the technical team made an appointment with the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) for the mandatory pre-flight inspection and the aircraft was declared in an ‘excellent state of readiness’. The flight safety aspects were approved.

Electrics and engine are tested

With the first flights fast approaching, the electrical system and engine tests are in full swing. Roland Loos, CEO, explains what this entails: “In order to carry out these tests, we have to simulate the reality as closely as possible. To achieve this, we securely attach the plane to a car, we turn on the electric motor and run it at full power for one minute – this allows us to simulate the take-off. Then, we slightly reduce the power in order to simulate the climb. This brings us up to cruising speed which we maintain for 15 minutes. Then it is time for the descent, and we decrease the power until the landing. These tests are of paramount importance, they allow us to test the engine, the batteries and the electronic system to make sure that everything works correctly. The goal is to ensure that the aircraft can fly without interruption to the system.”

The test pilots arrive in Payerne

Our two test pilots remained at home during the COVID-19 crisis, one in the United States, the other in Germany, but now with the lifting of measures, they have at last been able to join the team in Switzerland. Miguel A. Iturmendi and Norbert Lorenzen arrived at the Payerne base a few days ago and are busy finalising their pre-flight preparations alongside Raphaël Domjan, Roland Loos and the SolarStratos team.

Our loyal partners

“Our eco-exploration would not be possible without you! Thank you for being at our side and for supporting us!” Raphaël Domjan was effusive with his heartfelt thanks at the team’s traditional bi-annual evening in honour of the loyal partners of SolarStratos. The team welcomed the wider SolarStratos family to the Payerne base – in accordance with precautionary measures – for a happy evening which was well received after such a difficult period.

Stratospheric staging

The Payerne base was recently transformed into a movie set for a shoot produced by our photographer, Fred Merz, for our partner Planzer! Picture our eco-explorer decked out in his space suit driving a truck branded SolarStratos! Great stuff! Many thanks to Planzer for their support and the visibility they are giving us across Switzerland.

Almost there!

The wings are ready

We are counting the days until we can fly again! The solar cells have been fitted to the wings and the wings are at the base in Payerne and are currently being attached to the plane. It is a matter of time before we can at last prepare for take-off!

Jean-François Clervoy: “For the Swiss, the sun is their ocean!”

Jean-François Clervoy, French astronaut and godfather to the SolarStratos project, travelled to space three times with NASA between 1994 and 1999. He gives us his take on the stratospheric eco-exploration project led by Raphaël Domjan.

“I got to know Raphaël at a scientific conference in St. Tropez,” he recounts.

“Our rapport was immediate, and I was fascinated by his project from the start. You Swiss are incredible!

“Putting sailing around the world aside (wind is a form of solar energy), there are only three people in the world who have managed a circumnavigation powered exclusively by the most modern renewable energy systems. All three are Swiss and all three have used solar energy: Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg and Raphaël. You have imagination, ideas and the will to execute them. It’s fantastic!

“The sun is the ocean for the Swiss. You have no sea, but you identify that we must utilise the sources of energy that nature makes available to us in unlimited supply, the sun being one of these, and then you develop the technology to harness this energy. That is what you are trying to do with SolarStratos…

“Space is a very special place. To reach it and to be able to spend time there, you first need a considerable amount of energy to launch the rocket and then over time you avoid any waste and you recycle everything.

“From an altitude of 20,000 metres, the sensory experience is very close to that of astronauts. The sky becomes very dark, even in broad daylight, and you can very clearly see the round shape of planet Earth, it is such a beautiful sight that we have been known to cry from the emotion.

“The stratosphere is an ‘in between’ where no one ever remains. It is too high for airplanes and too low for the spacecraft that pass through it at high speed. SolarStratos will remain there, in the ‘in between’, fuelled by the unlimited and above all completely clean energy of the sun. It is Icarus’ dream, but in this case the sun will be an ally and not an enemy!

“I truly admire the artisanal aspect of the SolarStratos project. I also believe it is the only way to carry out such a mission, provided that you respect the rules of the craft in question. A craftsman has the know-how and can work professionally without being hampered by excessive bureaucratic constraints. Besides, some of the more industrial but equally innovative projects, such as Apollo, are artisanal projects in disguise, although they can take 10 times longer, cost fortunes and require significant political support. The advantage of a small team is that when a problem arises, decision-making is quick and efficient. This approach makes it possible to achieve things that are unthinkable within the framework of a large industrial organisation.

“To conclude, I think SolarStratos is a beautiful project, led by a superb team, with noble objectives, in harmony with nature. I dream of someday sitting in the passenger seat of the plane, but this privilege must be earned, and everyone involved in the project deserves that honour first.”

 

An electric experience!

Raphaël Domjan continued his training for the stratospheric solar flight during the lockdown period, by taking a course in electric aviation with Olivier Dessibourg, a pilot and specialist in this field. It was a great opportunity to gather additional knowledge before taking up the controls of SolarStratos.

Precautions in place

The SolarStratos team has been back at work at the office and at the Payerne base since the 11 May, with the administrative staff working on rotation. The technical team is working on the aircraft in strict compliance with personal protection rules as per the precautionary measures decreed by the Federal Office of Public Health.

Interview with Philippe Pilloud, our flight operations and safety manager

Philippe Pilloud has been an airline pilot and instructor for over 20 years. He has logged nearly 10,000 flying hours on various types of aircraft (from ULMs to the Boeing B737 and Airbus A320) and is currently a Captain on an A320 for a major airline. He has also been involved in flight safety for the airline for more than 15 years. Philippe has a Masters in air transport, plus training as an accident investigator, a mechanical engineer and a safety engineer. We asked him about the security preparations for the SolarStratos flights.

SolarStratos: What sort of work are the pilots currently undertaking?
P. Pilloud: “We are impatiently waiting for flight operations to resume – the test pilots are eager to get started! All the recommended sanitary precautions have been implemented and flying with a single pilot will make things easier. We are taking advantage of this break to refine the final details and to review the flight programme over and over again so that nothing is left to chance.

SolarStratos: Is preparing a solar flight different from other flight preparations?
P. Pilloud: “We are counting on the solid experience of our test pilots and I am putting my operational experience at the service of this magnificent adventure in order to best prepare for these flights. Preparations always follow the same broad lines; you must know the characteristics of the aircraft, for example in terms of take-off and landing distance, you need to check the weather conditions, coordinate the use of airspace with other civil or military users, etc. There is plenty to do before you can fly. Also, in our case, the solar aspect of the flight adds other preparation parameters, such as the management of available solar energy.

SolarStratos: What are the security measures and are they more drastic than for a normal flight?
P. Pilloud: “Without getting into specifics, when we put a safety plan in place, we always keep the main objective in mind which is to bring the pilots back in good health and the plane back in one piece. I often say that take-offs are optional, but landings are mandatory. Everything is put in place for that to happen as smoothly as possible. SolarStratos is breaking new ground which in turn means we have to predict the potential difficulties that we will face as much as we can. There is no such thing as zero risk, so it is more about being aware of the risks involved, then controlling and managing them. The SolarStratos adventure requires multidimensional risk management that you can’t compare to normal flights.

Focus on the team

Remote meetings

The COVID-19 situation has in no way detracted from the SolarStratos team’s drive and determination to move forward. Work sessions and meetings have shifted to Zoom and planning towards the first flights has continued apace. Raphaël Domjan’s mantra that ‘there is an opportunity in every challenge’ has really resonated during this period as the health crisis has allowed remote connections to be put to the test, something that will prove useful going forward.

And the plane?

The aircraft is currently in Wohlen for the final adjustments to the winglets (fins located at the end of the wings) and to attach the wings to the fuselage. One of the wings is completely finished, with solar modules installed.

The Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) has resumed part of its operation which is very lucky for us as we were able to give them our second wing to install the photovoltaic cells.

The fuselage is in the preparation phase and will be finalised at our base in Payerne soon.

Flights

The current global health crisis will unavoidably impact the schedule that was drawn up at the start of the year, in particular the start date for flying, so our two test pilots are in the process of developing a new flight plan, which (it almost goes without saying!) we hope will take place soon!

To our loyal partners

We would like to convey a message of gratitude and support to all our loyal partners and donors, who, like everyone else, must follow these precautionary measures to safeguard public health. The situation is tough and some of you have seen your operations greatly reduced or even suspended, our thoughts are with you and we wish you the very best for the future and thank you for your immense loyalty to our cause.

Special thanks

On April 16, a biogas vehicle provided by the Leuba Group transported the second SolarStratos wing from the workshop in Wohlen to the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) to have the Sunpower solar cells attached.

The CSEM, our scientific partner, has been doing an enormous amount of work towards installing the latest generation of photovoltaic cells onto the wings of our solar powered aircraft. Thanks to their technical, scientific and innovative skills, we will be able to achieve unprecedented levels of technology that should allow us to reach the stratosphere in ideal conditions.

Our thanks to Christophe Ballif and the CSEM team for accompanying us and believing in our project. CSEM and the Leuba Group are two fine examples, among many others, of local companies that are fundamentally involved in the success of our project and who are constantly striving for solutions. Many thanks to them!