Press Release

Space-based solar racing car on starting grid

By SpaceRef Editor
November 9, 2001
Filed under ,

On 18 November, 43 racing cars will be jostling for position at the start
of the 6th World Solar Challenge in Darwin, Australia. Among them, a slick
student-built machine that profits from space technology, supplied by the
European Space Agency (ESA). The Alpha Centauri team and their car Nuna
are amongst the favourites.

Unlike Formula-1 races, this start will produce very little noise and
smoke since all cars are solar powered. The World Solar Challenge is
intended to motivate research and development into harnessing solar energy
for future transport needs. It covers 3010 km from Darwin in the north to
Adelaide in the south of Australia, a distance the Alpha Centauri Team
hopes to cover in a record time of just four days.

The streamlined machine is built by eight Dutch students from the
universities of Delft and Amsterdam. It uses advanced space technology,
provided to the team via ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme, enabling the
car to reach a theoretical top speed of over 160 km per hour.

The aerodynamically optimized outer shell consists of space-age plastics
to keep it light and strong. The main body is made from carbon fibre,
reinforced with Kevlar, a material used in satellites, but nowadays also
in high performance equipment like bulletproof vests.

The car’s shell is covered with the best dual junction and triple junction
gallium-arsenide solar cells, developed for satellites. These cells have
an efficiency of about 24%. ESA will test these cells in space in early
2003, when the technology-demonstrating SMART-1 mission is launched to the
Moon.

Nuna also carries Maximum Power Point Trackers, small devices that
guarantee an optimal balance between power from the battery and the solar
cells, even in less favourable situations like shade and cloud. Many
satellites carry these devices, for instance ESA’s Rosetta mission to
comet Wirtanen.

A small strip of solar cells on the side of the car is very special for a
different reason: the communication equipment is powered by a strip of
cells that originally belonged to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
These cells were part of a large solar array, retrieved by ESA astronaut
Claude Nicollier and brought back to Earth in 1993 with a Space Shuttle.
They have been donated to the Alpha Centauri Team as a special mascot.

“If Nuna wins the race, it will be due in part to the use of space
technology” explained Ramon Martinez, a mechanical engineering student at
the Technical University of Delft and leader of the Alpha Centauri Team.
But much more important, due to the hard work and dedication of a group of
students, making a dream come true!”

To fulfil their mission, the student team has collected an impressive
line-up of supporters. ESA not only provided them with engineering support
via its Technology Transfer Programme but also with general support via
the Education Office, headed by former ESA astronaut Wubbo Ockels, who is
also adviser to the team. Dutch energy company Nuon is the main sponsor,
and the association of plastic producers APME and the Technical University
of Delft are strongly supporting the team.

After the mission an extensive tour is planned to visit schools in the
Member States of ESA. This educational programme will emphasize the value
of space technology for a more sustainable world and show in a tangible
manner how the dreams of youngsters can become reality.

Please note that the World Solar Challenge will provide a daily TV feed to
broadcasters in Australia. For details, please contact Mr Mike Drewer,
contact details below.

Find updates on the race and more about ESA at: http://www.esa.int

For more information, please contact:

World Solar Challenge contact: (press inquiries)

Mr Mike Drewer or Ms Kate Martin

email: [email protected] or [email protected]

telephone +61 8 8363 3088

fax + 61 8 8362 2256

http://www.wsc.org.au/

Contact Alpha Centauri Team:

Ms Rosalie Puiman

e-mail: [email protected]

Telephone + 61 4 38207282

http://www.alpha-centauri.nl

ESA Technology Transfer Programme

Mr Pierre Brisson

telephone + 31 71 565 4929

e-mail: [email protected]

http://www.esa.int/technology/

ESA Education Office

Mr. Wubbo Ockels

Telephone: + 31 71 565 5456

e-mail: [email protected]

http://www.estec.esa.nl/outreach/

SpaceRef staff editor.