Zvezda aiming high with SolarStratos

NPP Zvezda vill provide a customozed high-altitude suit for the project The SolarStratos cockpit will be unpressurized (NPP Zvezda)

For the first time at MAKS, Russia’s Zvezda Research and Development Production Enterprise (NPP Zvezda) is showcasing a mock-up cockpit of its experimental aircraft SolarStratos. The cabin comes complete with a high-altitude suit designed specifically for the project.

SolarStratos is an international project launched by Swiss solar energy pioneer Raphael Domjan with the objective of creating a light composite aircraft with a solar-powered electric motor. Its cockpit, which seats two crew in tandem configuration, is designed for stratospheric flights at altitudes of up to 25,000 m.

Solar panels measuring a total of 22 square meters in area are installed on the airplane’s wing. These generate 32kW of electricity, charging a 20kW lithium-ion battery. SolarStratos has a wing span of 24.8m, measures 8.5 m in length, and weighs 450 kg.

To minimize the aircraft’s weight, its cockpit is neither heat-insulated nor pressurized. The pilots have to wear special full-pressure suits. Domjan’s friend Michael Lopez-Alegria, the Spanish-American astronaut who holds the NASA record for the number of spacewalks, approached NPP Zvezda suggesting that the Russian company support the SolarStratos project by developing a high-altitude suit with additional thermal insulation. The suit is based on the Sokol-KV2 spacesuit model, but features significant upgrades. The internal environment is controlled and maintained by an autonomous life support system.

Flight tests of SolarStratos are scheduled to begin this year. The aircraft made its seven-minute maiden flight on May 5, reaching an altitude of 300 m.

The first flight into the stratosphere is planned for 2019. The trip will take about six hours; the airplane will require about two hours to climb to the desired altitude. It will then continue in cruise for 15-30 minutes before descent, which will take another three hours.

By Evgenia Kolyada

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