By Patricia Daukantas
Since we’re just past the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems appropriate that solar-powered vehicles are sailing through the news.
First of all, the University of Michigan’s solar car team, based in Ann Arbor (U.S.A.), won last week’s American Solar Challenge road race through heartland America, from Tulsa, Okla., to Naperville, Ill.
Michigan was one of 17 competing teams, mostly from the United States, but also representing Canada, Germany and Taiwan. The University of Minnesota (U.S.A.) finished in second place and the Hochschule Bochum – Bochum University of Applied Sciences (Germany) came in a strong third, less than 10 minutes behind Minnesota.
Although the winner’s elapsed racing time was just under 28 hours and 15 minutes, the race took a full week to complete, because of the mandatory checkpoints and overnight stops along the winding route.
Check out the photos of the Michigan car and its rivals in the links above – from the front, the Michigan vehicle looks to me like one of the UFOs from sci-fi movies of the 1950s, and from the side, it looks a bit like a small boat on wheels. Plus, the tiny compartment for the driver ensures that the car will never become the family sedan of the future. Still, one can’t argue with success.
Another solar-vehicle race – this one for high school students – will take place July 18-25 on steeper American terrain (Fort Worth, Texas, to Boulder, Colo.). Twenty-two teams have applied to take part in the Hunt-Winston School Solar Car Challenge. Yes, the drivers of the cars actually do have to have their driver’s licenses. But it’s still amazing what these teenagers can do.
Finally, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, has deployed a solar sail in outer space. Its unpiloted satellite, IKAROS, was launched six weeks ago and had to “stretch its wings” once it got several million kilometers away from Earth. JAXA will monitor the output of the thin-film solar cells and learn how to maneuver with the combined force of radiation pressure on the sails and the energy generated from the photovoltaic sail. The agency explains how the sail was deployed and has a website with other details of the mission.
2010-07 July, Energy, Miscellaneous Optics