Solar-powered airship set to circumnavigate the globe without a drop of fuel

Solar Airship One Circumnavigate Globe
Solar Airship One aims to circumnavigate the globe in 20 days, showcasing the potential of zero-emission, solar and hydrogen-powered air travel. Images © Solar Airship One

In a remarkable leap for long-distance aviation, the Solar Airship One will circle the world non-stop without fuel, creating a new benchmark for zero-emissions travel. The innovative airship plans to traverse approximately 40,000 km (around 25,000 miles) along the equator in a single, non-stop flight over 20 days.

The Solar Airship One stretches to a considerable length of 151 meters (495 feet) and is adorned with a solar film on its entire upper surface. The solar film covers an area of about 4,800 square meters (51,700 sq ft), roughly equivalent to nine-tenths of an NFL football field. The ample solar panels not only run the electric propulsion systems of the airship during daylight but also accumulate extra power by electrolyzing water into hydrogen, which is utilized to run a fuel cell for nighttime operations.

The mission is spearheaded by a trio of distinguished individuals: Michel Tognini, a former French astronaut and Air Force pilot; Dorine Bourneton, a paraplegic plane-crash survivor and accomplished aerobatic pilot; and Bertrand Piccard, a serial adventurer known for his non-stop balloon circumnavigation in 1999 and piloting the Solar Impulse 2 in its inaugural round-the-world solar flight from 2015-16. The team’s planning estimates an average speed slightly over 83 km/h (52 mph) for the airship.

The Solar Airship One, while significantly slower compared to traditional fossil fuel-dependent airliners, possesses unique advantages. The ability to halt and proceed from any location without the need for a runway sets it apart from conventional aircraft. This feature is particularly promising for airships, which are emerging as futuristic vehicles for both luxury passenger travel and zero-emissions cargo movement. As anticipated, hydrogen-filled airships like Solar Airship One could transport 8-10 times the payload of a cargo plane at just a quarter of the price, and with speeds up to 10 times faster than a cargo ship.

Solar Airship One Circumnavigate Globe Hydrogen Fuel Cell
The extensive solar panels power the airship’s propulsion by day and store extra energy by converting water into hydrogen, fueling nighttime operations through a hydrogen cell.

Despite its reliance on renewable energy, the Solar Airship One uses helium to maintain its rigid structure, with a total of 50,000 cubic meters (1.77 million cubic feet) contained in 15 separate envelopes. It’s noteworthy that helium is a non-replaceable element; once released into the atmosphere, it ascends and exits into space.

As the Euro Airship team enthusiastically prepares for this extraordinary zero-carbon expedition, the world watches with bated breath. The airship’s global journey, set for 2026, aims to stay near the equator at an altitude of around 6,000 meters (19,700 feet). The project showcases the considerable potential of renewable energy in revolutionizing long-distance aviation, driving both passenger and cargo transport toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

Solar Airship One Circumnavigate Globe 2026
Scheduled for 2026, the airship’s worldwide voyage targets a path along the equator at a height of roughly 6,000 meters.

Source: Euro Airship