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Manned Solar Wing to Near Space

Go, slowly, up and up, until you see the curvature of the Earth
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Space adventures have become a booming business. Several companies will bring you to anywhere you want, including around the Moon and back.

Their 'steps to space' programmes also feature some more modest adventures, such as zero-G flights.

Or you can travel to the 'edge of space' in a MiG - 70,000 feet high. People who did this, describe the view of Earth as spectacular and already get a bit of a 'space experience', with black skies and seeing the curvature of the Earth. The trip lasts a few minutes only.

Our program is an entirely different, unique addition.

-We bring you to 100,000 feet (30 km) and higher in a giant solar powered wing.

-Such a solar wing already exists and carries a maximum payload of around 726 pounds (329 kg) [see link]. In principle it could carry three adults.

-Our wing would be a two-seater, because we need to carry enough oxygen and some other stuff.

-You sit in a small open structure attached under the wing, - open, that is you have a perfect view. Of course you would be wearing a nice and much needed space suit, like the two men from the Qinetiq team who attempted a high altitude balloon flight [link].

-Since our wing can fly for a very long time (it has a closed-loop hydrogen system on board), we could offer several different programs (unique sunsets, sunrises, etc...); DO CHECK OUT the video of the brilliant sunrise captured by a weather balloon from a high altitude [link]; however, the H2 system would not be necessary, since on solar power alone you can get to 100,000ft and back in 1 day.

-The 'near space port' is located in the Sahara or another highly sunny place. Preferrably a spot at the interface between ocean and land (e.g. somewhere in Northern Africa so you can see the Mediterranean and the countries surrounding it, as well as the Atlantic Ocean; or somewhere in Mexico, so you can see the Gulf and the Southern U.S.)

-The flight is entirely remote controlled and carries two passengers.

-The experience of going up very very slowly, in an open cabin, must be very special. The views of Earth from an altitude of 100,000 are quite cool - with black skies and a nice view of the atmosphere and the curvature of the earth [link].

-This does not compete with the MiG flight or with suborbital flights. It would just be another adventure. Probably one of the most affordable.

---- Comparison: zero-G flight costs €5000, a MiG-25 flight costs €13,000, sub-orbital flight would cost around US$ 200,000 (Virgin) - 300,000 (EADS Astrium).

EADS's sub-orbital vehicle will cost €1 billion to develop [link]. Our wing would cost between US$15 and US$20 million.

::EDIT: I just found the production cost of the Helios, the largest of the wings, produced in 2001: US$ 10 million (with the fuel cell system) [link], of which US$ 9 million went into solar cells [link].

Cost of those cells has come down steadily and continues to decline.

Operational costs are extremely low compared to other aircraft.

django, Jun 15 2007

Helios http://www.nasa.gov...ts/FS-068-DFRC.html
The solar wing that reached 100,000ft [django, Jun 15 2007]

View of Earth from an altitude of 25km (82,000ft) http://www.universe...06-0119hialt-lg.jpg
We would go 5 km higher, maybe even 10 with an even more spectacular view!! [django, Jun 15 2007, last modified Jun 16 2007]

Qinetiq balloon attempt http://news.bbc.co....ng/html/default.stm
Nice pics too [django, Jun 15 2007]

A better view from 95,000ft http://starsoverkan...09700-R1-065-31.jpg
Cool! [django, Jun 15 2007]

EADS wants to get there too http://news.bbc.co..../nature/6749873.stm
1 vehicle = 1 billion euros! [django, Jun 15 2007]

Production cost of the Helios http://news.thomasn...t_na.html?t=archive
Very cheap compared to a MiG-foxbat [django, Jun 16 2007]

60,000 solar cells http://www.pvresources.com/en/helios.php
At a cost of US$ 200/watt [django, Jun 16 2007]

BRILLIANT vid of sunrise at 85,000 ft http://www.youtube....watch?v=9EZ0o445xKE
OMG if we could organise this, I would book a flight immediately!! [django, Jun 17 2007]

EVEN MORE BRILLIANT vid: only 80,000ft http://www.youtube....watch?v=n7PY6HY9CGQ
And you get the curvature of the earth, the "sun as a star" view, and the blue thin atmosphere!! [django, May 03 2008]

[link]






       very cool, but maybe dangerous... and keep in mind you have to carry enough of everything to get BACK as well... cheap as compared to the other spaceflights, indeed. [+]
CaptainClapper, Jun 15 2007
  

       Space suit and open cockpit? I'm there, and I'm bringin' my parachute!
Freefall, Jun 15 2007
  

       Well, with a nickname like yours... I would have been disappointed if you didn't show up here :-)
django, Jun 15 2007
  

       damn! sign me up. a zero-emission quasi space-ride. too cool.   

       q: since the aircraft is rather slow, how much radiation would one expect to absorb during the flight profile, when compared with the virgin craft for example?   

       hmmm... been thinking for a few minutes now. i reckon a small cabin (per passenger) would work out better for several reasons: it could be made very very light, provide an unencumbered view (maybe even mostly transparent), fits everyone (spacesuits are pretty pricey), provide an escape system (just falls away on a chute).   

       also - forget fuel cells (like you said). newer batteries that are lightweight have at least a 3x energy efficiency advantage are a possibility. another advantage of using batteries is that each descent will store significant power, allowing the use of less solar cells to get back up, or have more power when needed. just need to charge them the first time.   

       best idea i've seen here for a while - better get your business plan ready. $2000/ride sound ok?   

       ++++   

       edit: using battery assist, perhaps it would even be possible to use in cloudy places, like northwest usa, as the cloud cover is usually pretty low - after that, lots of sunshine, albeit a little lower in the sky.
TIB, Jun 17 2007
  

       IF we succeed to launch at night with battery assist, then we can catch a sunrise at high altitude.   

       PLZ really, check out the video [link] of what it looks like from a balloon at 85,000ft. It looks magnificent!!   

       Our solar wing ride would be far less bumpy and much slower though. But the vid offers a glimpse of what it can be!   

       [TIB]: a quick back of the envelope calculation (US$10m per wing including capital costs, operational costs, insurance, edge-of-space port etc...; for a wing that would have useful life of 10 years; at 300 flights per year, each time two paying customers), would get you there for US$ 3500 if we want to break even after 5 years. Would you book a seat?
django, Jun 17 2007
  

       Genius. I was just thinking yesterday that the UAE should get involved in space tourism. It's the kind of high profile thing that they love,they have money to throw at things and they have a decent customer base here of bored rich people. Your idea would be perfect here as it's <understatement>rather sunny</understatement>.   

       The technology exists so there is not much R&D to do, the only thing I would suggest is that the cockpit should be sealed rather than open. That would be more free than having to wear a spacesuit that means you can't pick your nose. Plus, I think a 3-person layout would be better, if practical, ideally seperating the pilot from the passengers, as I would imagine a lot of couples would like to join the 19-mile-high club.   

       Edit: remote control would be better if people will trust it.
marklar, Jun 17 2007
  

       you could have a wide angle camera looking out across the wing to include a 50% view of the world below. stick an ad in the other 50%, or rotate through a series of ads (perhaps environmentally focussed companies) to help generate revenue. stream this data online, or perhaps on some cable channel. offer flights as prizes; get some celebs to take a flight. have a mini space-camp as an option. sell footage of an individual's ride as an option. do some atmospheric/cosmic science. basically anything to get the basic price under $2000, yet still earn you the $3500 needed.   

       for sure i'd do it at $3500, but that's probably because i'm an aerospace geek. at $2000, you'd probably have a never-ending supply of passengers (as well as your other streams of revenue).   

       last option - build a bigger plane. design it to take 4 people at a time. if it costs less than 100% more to do that, there may be an opportunity to save $$.   

       names? icarus seems obvious. sunship-1, etc.   

       float some shares.   

       really, please, please, do this! you will succeed!
TIB, Jun 17 2007
  

       Since the ride is projected to take 24 hours, passenegers will require fully functional spacesuits with complete waste handling facilities. For some people that might make the trip even more interesting.
nuclear hobo, Jun 17 2007
  

       [+] An elegant idea. I'm sure that some science could be performed as well. Rent out some cargo space to scientists for sensors/cameras etc. and make some $$ back to reduce costs further for passengers.
DrWotsit, Jun 18 2007
  

       To reduce the climb time, could it be launched from a convential aircraft from 40-50,000 feet. Maybe the other aircraft could do a zero-G experience so it's not such a wasted trip. It would add to the experience to see the carrier aircraft drop away as it goes into freefall. In fact, I wonder if it would be possible to dock the aircraft so that the solar aircraft doesn't need to land all the time, passengers are ferried up and down by the other plane.
marklar, Jun 18 2007
  

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Voice, Jun 19 2007
  

       Just reading this makes me want to 1) have a panic attack and 2) puke on myself. Both of which would happen if I took a ride. But, my distress does not mean this isn't an entirely super cool idea, and I look forward to seeing everyone pictures upon their safe return.
Noexit, Jun 19 2007
  

       Check out the "even more brilliant vid", just recently uploaded to YouTube, by NearSpace.   

       This is the view at only 80,000ft, which we can easily reach with the solar wing.   

       Don't you like it?   

       -the curvature of the Earth   

       -the thin blue atmosphere   

       -the Sun seen as a "star" hanging in a black sky   

       It does feel "spacey", even at this relatively low altitude, doesn't it?
django, May 03 2008
  

       //Since our wing can fly for a very long time //*

*Nappies (diapers) not included.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, May 04 2008
  
      
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