Solar blimp nears English Channel crossing

Project Sol'r, a French solar-powered blimp, successfully took flight today.

Project Sol'r is an interesting project for several reasons, not least of which is the project's sheer and almost gleeful lack of commercial or military viability. This blimp goes about twelve miles per hour; it's not really destined for any kind of proper transportation use, and that's just how the project's leaders like it.

Said Felix Hildenbrand, one of the project's members:

“As we are a very peaceful people in France we could not imagine that our construction could ever have a military use. In fact we don’t have any commercial interest right now. Our goal is just to show that it’s possible, and that’s what we are going to do [when we] cross the channel by the end of the summer.”

There's something kind of refreshing about that--it's not going to save the world, it's just going to be a fun experiment.

Project Sol'r's blimp is about 72 feet long, powered by semi-flexible solar cells. Those cells output about 2.4 kilowatts of energy, enough to supply a "surprisingly small" motor which in turn powers two propellers. It's constructed from an aluminum frame, wrapped nylon and polyethylene.

Theoretically, the blimp can travel about 25 miles per hour, but team members estimate the blimp's eventual Channel crossing will only move at 10 to 12 miles per hour. That'll take about five hours, so it's not going to replace, well, any other form of transportation at all.

The blimp, christened the Néphélios, was demonstrated at the Salon de l'Aviation Verte--you can check out the video below.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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