Monday, March 1, 2021
Home Science Sunlight could power micro-aircraft flying above the stratosphere

Sunlight could power micro-aircraft flying above the stratosphere

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Space shuttle Endeavour in 2010. The orange layer is the troposphere. The whitish layer above it’s the stratosphere and above that’s the mesosphere

NASA/Crew of Expedition 22

Sunlight could be used to power microfliers travelling above the stratosphere in the mesosphere.

At current, the solely automobiles that may journey on this layer of our ambiance, at an altitude between 50 and 80 kilometres, are rockets destined for house. Aeroplanes and different fashionable plane can’t fly above 50 kilometres as a result of the decrease air density at these altitudes doesn’t permit for enough raise.


On the flip facet, the air in the mesosphere is just too dense for the protected passage of satellites and could injury them, so it’s off limits for them too.

Igor Bargatin at the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have give you a tool that could probably obtain sustained journey by means of the mesosphere.

“What we’re looking at is a new mechanism of levitation that has been used in the past for really small particles, ones that you can’t see,” says Bargatin. “But what we’re doing is making it work for structures that are big enough that you can hold them in your hands and therefore, at least potentially, will have real-life applications.”

The approach exploits the phenomenon of photophoresis, which depends on the switch of photo voltaic power – initially to an object corresponding to the new gadget, after which to the air molecules surrounding the object.

“When you expose [the device] to sunlight, the molecules that hit the surfaces will absorb some of the heat,” says Bargatin. “We designed the [device] surfaces in such a way that the top surface is not very good at transferring heat whereas the bottom surface is very good at transferring heat and as a result more molecules will gain downward velocity than upward velocity.”

This creates a raise power, he provides, that means that when the microfliers have been uncovered to incident gentle depth of about 0.5 Watts per sq. centimetre at air pressures of about 10 Pascals they moved by means of the air.

The group believes that in the future, variations of the microfliers fitted with sensors could be used to map wind and temperatures in the mesosphere, which could enhance local weather fashions.

“In general, it’s unclear how many practical aspects of this technology would work, such as delivering the microfliers to this part of the atmosphere, which would presumably need to be dropped from rockets,” says Karen Aplin at the University of Bristol in the UK. “At the moment, this technology looks like a bit of a solution searching for a problem.”

“I should say that every time a new flight mechanism is implemented or discovered, people find new applications that are hard to think about from the beginning,” says Bargatin.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6855

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