Round-the-world solar plane suspends flight

Geneva : The world’s largest solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, was forced to push back the second half of it’s round-the-world flight to early spring 2016 due to irreversible damage to overheated batteries, the team behind the project announced on Wednesday.

Following a record-breaking oceanic flight of five days and five nights (117 hours and 52 minutes) from Nagoya to Hawaii, the aircraft, equipped with as many as 17,000 solar cells, suffered battery damage due to overheating.

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The team said the battery temperature increased too much due to over insulation of the gondolas and there was no way to decrease the temperature for the remaining duration of the flight, Xinhua reported.

Irreversible damage to certain parts of the batteries require repairs which will last several months. In the meantime, the team will study various options for better cooling and heating processes for very long flights.

The University of Hawaii, with the support of local authorities, will host the airplane in its hanger at Kalaeloa Airport. Post maintenance test flights will start in 2016 to check the new battery heating and cooling systems.

Solar Impulse 2 is attempting a historic first of flying around the world only on solar energy. Alexandra Gindroz, media officer of Solar Impulse 2, said the aim was for the aircraft to complete its global journey in the summer of 2016.

Starting in March 2015 from the Persian Gulf, the single-seat aircraft has completed eight of 12 legs of its journey, covering nearly half of the team’s global goal. During the flight from Nagoya to Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 broke the world record for absolute distance and duration for solar aviation.

“We will try to complete the first ever round-the-world solar flight in 2016 and this delay will in no way influence the overall objectives of this pioneering endeavour,” the team said in a statement.