Sky lines

High altitude solar array to power IT and propel planes

High altitude solar array to power IT and propel planes

Skylines are a zero carbon hypersonic air travel solution, a high altitude solar farm, a base for all sorts of high altitude electronics and even as a booster to reduce rocket engine size to get to orbit by getting spacecraft up to high hypersonic speeds before they need to fire engines. Well, most of the bits would be made of carbon materials, but it wouldn’t emit any CO2.

The pic says it all. A linear solar farm suspended in the high atmosphere (20km – 30km high) to provide an IT platform for sensors, comms and other functions often accomplished by low orbit satellite. It would float up there thanks to being fixed to a graphene foam base layer that can be made lighter than helium (my previous invention, see

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/could-graphene-foam-be-a-future-helium-substitute/

which has since been prototyped and proven to be extremely resilient to high pressures too). Ideally, it would go all the way around the world, in various inclinations at different altitudes to provide routes to many places. More likely, it would connect a few major locations. Carbon materials are also incredibly strong so the line can be made as strong as can reasonably be required. Graphene is ideal for its weight, strength and most of all its electrical properties. It is perfect for making the various electrical circuits and as a base for solar panels.

This linear solar array would produce huge electric power, which is a potential use in itself, but housing various low ‘satellites’ would be even more useful, especially for comms where the latency would be lower than higher satellites and for surveillance where monitors will be closer to the ground.

As well as these, the flotation layer could also supports a hypersonic linear induction motor that could provide direct propulsion to a hypersonic glider or to electric props on a powered plane. Obviously this could also provide a means of making extremely low earth orbit satellites that continuously circumnavigate the ring. Once a plane is being pulled, it doesn’t need to breathe air for its engines, and with very thin air heating is less of an issue so it could go faster. High hypersonic speeds may be possible, making global air travel much faster and less environmentally damaging.

I know you’re asking already how the planes get up there. There are a few solutions.  Most likely they would use conventional engines to do so, and dock with a tether and sled once at a suitable height. Tethers could move to intercept, like a relay team’s members coordinating speed for handing over the baton, and a longer tether obviously means the plane doesn’t have to climb so high. Once it is tethered, of course it could climb a lot higher to escape air resistance, and some kinds of planes could even fly above the skyline, in very thin air, for super high speeds or even to assist in sub-orbital launches by reducing the needs for rockets. In theory, tethers could come all the way to ground level to airports, and electric engines powered by the skyline would then be used to get to height where the plane would pick up a sled-link, or else stronger links to the ground would allow planes to be pulled up by sleds, though these options would be far less feasible, because both mean that the air would have dangerous tethers dangling causing potential risks to other craft.

The power levels needed can be determined by looking at existing planes engines. The engines on a Boeing 777 generate about 8.25MW. A high altitude solar cell, above clouds could generate 300W per square metre. So a 777 equivalent plane needs 55km of panels if the line is just one metre wide. That means planes need to be at least that distance apart, but since that equates to around a minute, that is no barrier at all.

If you still doubt this, the Hyperloop was just a crazy idea when it was invented a century ago too. Now various companies are building demonstrators.

To finish on a tease, I mention above the potential for this to help spacecraft up to speed before they need to fire rocket engines. Although skylines are both feasible and useful for this, Carbon Devices is currently exploring some far superior ways of reaching space, but we are not ready to disclose them quite yet.

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