BCI4@ Team interviewed with SolarStratos Initiator and Pilot Raphaël Domjan.
BCI4@ Team: Where did the Solar Stratos idea come from and would you please tell us about this plane?
Raphael Domjan:The idea was born when I crossed the pacific ocean aboard PlanetSolar, I was wondering what I could do once our successful adventure more ambitious than the first round the world with solar energy. At night in the middle of the South Pacific, the Milky Way is bright and every minute a shooting star passes over your head. This is where the idea of trying to reach the stratosphere with solar energy was born. A dream came true 4,000 years later.
BCI4@ Team: What are the key steps to initiate a start-up like SolarStratos?
• Find the idea
• Carry out a feasibility study
• Bring together a team and skills
• Find the financial means and technical partners
BCI4@ Team: You are trying to achieve something that has not been done before. What is the main disruptor you have encountered so far?
Raphael Domjan: The goal is to achieve something that has never been attempted, but with existing technologies. At this stage we have not yet really made a break or disruptor in our adventure. But we learn a lot every day.
BCI4@ Team: Did the COVID-19 pandemic have any effect on this project?
Raphael Domjan: The Covid19 made our life more difficult of course, but we are explorers, we try to use this difficulty as an advantage.
BCI4@ Team: It seems you are very dedicated to using renewable energy in your projects. Why is it important to use solar power rather than fossil fuels globally?
Raphael Domjan: We are currently burning 300 tonnes of fossil fuel per second. First of all, it is not sustainable and also dangerous for our climate. We want to show that we can achieve incredible things thanks to renewable energies and electricity
BCI4@ Team: Technically speaking, there are some formidable concerns about high altitude solar powered aircraft, such as that their aerostructures become very fragile due to high power/weight requirements. What would be your technical team's modern approach vis-a-vis those challenges different from legacy work?
Raphael Domjan: We want to fly at high altitudes with a light aircraft, which must consume little energy and therefore fly slowly. We think outside the box and learn with my team and our technical partners every day how to solve complex problems. It’s exciting.
BCI4@ Team: Would you be thinking in the future about maybe enrichening your approach by also considering hydrogen energy alternative, despite its own challenges?
Raphael Domjan: We are always open to new technologies, hydrogen is one of the solutions of the future for the aviation of the future. But its use is not appropriate in our project.
BCI4@ Team: We know that fearless pioneers like you live and experiment at the extremes of flight-test, but would you ever consider having extra safety measures in your designs like ballistic parachute etc?
Raphael Domjan: I am an adventurer; but, my job is to limit risks. All flights where the wearing of a parachute is possible, are carried out with a parachute for each crew member. Certain flights cannot be carried out with a parachute; but, we have to test the plane and the flight profiles beforehand. In this case, the risks are greater; but, a risk-free adventure is no longer called adventure.
BCI4@ Team: Would you tell us about your technical and management team?
Raphael Domjan: We have a small team, very motivated and super competent that enables us to carry out this adventure, with brilliant and passionate people. It is a privilege for me to work with these incredible people.
BCI4@ Team: What would be the next steps for further development of SolarStratos?
Raphael Domjan: We hope to participate in the development of electric aviation and also we hope that our know-how could allow the development of high altitude solar drones in the future.
BCI4@ Team: Do you expect SolarStratos and similar initiatives increase in number in the near future?
Raphael Domjan: This is already the case. There are more and more adventure projects and communication explorations emerging for promotion of environmental protection.
BCI4@ Team: Is there any interest or support from Turkey to SolarStratos? What do you think about collaborating with some institutions in Turkey? For example, Turkey Space Agency who manages Turkey’s National Space Program.
Raphael Domjan: We are a project born in Switzerland, but we are very happy when other countries or institutions are willing to engage with us in this dream of reaching to the stratosphere with solar energy. So, yes we are open to any collaboration.
BCI4@ Team: What would you recommend to young aviators who dream to work at SolarStratos?
Raphael Domjan: Just follow us, maybe we will need new talents very soon.
BCI4@ Team: Anything else do you want to add?
Raphael Domjan: We are destroying the world, when we have all it takes to change and become sustainable. Renewable energies, technology, raw materials. This will also be profitable for our economy, and especially for countries like Turkey which has a good geographical location with a high potential for renewable energy production. We are all responsible for change in order to preserving our beautiful blue planet.
SolarStratos is the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history, it will also be the first manned solar plane penetrating the stratosphere. Calin Gologan (Elektra-Solar GmbH – technical partner SolarStratos) is the designer. The basis of the commercial aircraft will be used and the aircraft will be pushed to the limit of its ability to succeed in our crazy bet. This tandem two-seater, with a wingspan of 24 meters and a weight of 450 kilos will fly like any other aircraft.
An Aeroplane To Science
Exploring distant space we wish to contribute primarily to the protection of our atmosphere, this requires a better understanding of what is happening. The SolarStratos Mission will fly at an altitude little frequented in a fragile environment, propelled solely by solar energy without any pollutant emissions and will give us the possibility to make new measurements, never done before. In the future, the exploration of the stratosphere may allow us to extend and to understand humanity… Who knows…