This little plane will take us to the edge of space

This little plane will take us to the edge of space

Mohsen Azadi, University of Pennsylvania

  • Microfliers powered by carbon nanotubes could carry science in the mesosphere.
  • The upper mesosphere is too thin for planes or balloons to support each other.
  • The light heats the underside of the mylar film and lifts the flyer using recoil energy.

    Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have created “microfliers” who could fly in near space on just the power of light.

    These tiny aviators may be the key to unlocking the mesosphere, the area 30 to 50 miles above Earth where the air is too thin to physically support hot air balloons or airplanes. Solar aviators could fill a critical gap, not only in Earth’s little-studied mesosphere, but elsewhere in space as well.

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    The microflier is ingeniously simple. Mylar, the extremely light metallic material used in birthday balloons, is cut into shapes less than an inch wide and covered on one side with carbon nanotubes. Then, in a mechanism like an airplane wing, but with light instead of wind, the underside is activated by focused energy.


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