Solar Impulse hopes to take off again in March

Solar Impulse raises money to continue journey

Solar Impulse 2 has successfully raised the funding it needs to continue its groundbreaking fuel-less round-the-world trip, which was suspended in July due to battery damage. 

According to Andre Borschberg, a co-founder and pilot of the innovative plane, firms including chemical maker Solvay, Swiss lift-manufacturer Schindler, Omega watches, and power grid maker ABB contributed to the $20 million needed for the plane to take off again.

"The financial side is under control," Borschberg, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot who is taking turns at the controls of the one-seater solar powered plane with his colleague Bertrand Piccard, told Reuters at the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

"We are all very focused and looking forward to continuing next year."

Having set out from Abu Dhabi in March this year, the plane, equipped with 17,248 solar cells and with a wingspan equal to that of a Boeing 747, was grounded in Hawaii after its batteries sustained irreparable damage during a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean.

Borschberg said test flights will commence in March, with the plane set to continue its journey in April if weather allows. Bad weather caused multiple delays during this year’s part of the journey. The plane had to wait in China for more than four weeks before the weather cleared up sufficiently to allow the challenging five-day non-stop flight across the Pacific. The first attempt to cross the ocean had to be aborted with the plane making an unscheduled stop in Japan.

The plane still has some 10,670 miles to complete the journey. First it has to complete the crossing of the Pacific to reach North America, travelling a distance of some 2,500 km from Hawaii, where it is overwintering.

It wouldn’t be possible to start the journey earlier as the plane needs enough daylight to recharge the batteries that keep it airborne by night.

The team has not yet determined where on the American west coast to stop as they said it will depend on the weather. Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix are all being considered.

The plane, weighing about the same as a family car, will also make a further stop in the US Midwest and a final one in New York before crossing the Atlantic to reach either southern Europe or northern Africa.

"We know we can do it, but it remains a challenge," Borschberg said, adding the main purpose of the $170 million project is to show the world that renewable technology is mature enough to help stop climate change – a message he and his colleague Piccard have come to spread during the climate talks in Paris. 

"That's what we used to make it feasible to fly day and night with the sun only," he said. "That's what we certainly could implement on a larger scale."

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