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Solar Impulse grounded until 2016 due to battery damage; team studying better thermal management

Solar Impulse, the solar-powered electric aircraft attempting to fly around the world, will be grounded in Hawaii until early spring 2016 due to damage to the batteries which overheated in the record-breaking oceanic flight from Nagoya to Hawaii.

Following this longest and most difficult leg of the round-the-world journey which lasted 5 days and 5 nights (117 hours and 52 minutes), Solar Impulse will undergo maintenance repairs on the batteries due to damages brought about by overheating.

During the first ascent on day one of the flight from Nagoya to Hawaii, the battery temperature increased due to a high climb rate and an over-insulation of the gondolas. Although the Mission Team was monitoring this very closely during the flight, there was no way to decrease the temperature for the remaining duration as each daily cycle requires an ascent to 28,000 feet and descent for optimal energy management.

Overall the airplane performed very well during the flight, the team said. The damage to the batteries is not a technical failure or a weakness in the technology but rather an evaluation error in terms of the profile of the mission and the cooling design specifications of the batteries, the team said. The temperature of the batteries in a quick ascent / descent in tropical climates was not properly anticipated.

Irreversible damage to certain parts of the batteries will require repairs which will take several months. In parallel, the Solar Impulse engineering team will be studying various options for better cooling and heating processes for very long flights.

The University of Hawaii with the support of the Department of Transportation will host the airplane in its hangar at Kalaeloa airport. Post-maintenance check flights will start in 2016 to test the new battery heating and cooling systems. The Round-The-World mission will resume early April from Hawaii to the USA West Coast. From there Solar Impulse will cross the USA to JFK in New York before making the Atlantic crossing to Europe and then returning the point of departure in Abu Dhabi.

Solar Impulse is attempting a historic first of flying around the world only on solar energy. And while Solar Impulse has completed 8 legs, covering nearly half of the journey, setbacks are part of the challenges of a project which is pushing technological boundaries to the limits. Solar Impulse 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 endeavor, the team insisted.

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