Solar impulse completes flight in Ouarzazate, Morocco

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 The second time's the charm for the Solar Impulse.

The airplane, which is solely powered by electricity and backed by solar energy, took off early from Rabat, Morocco on June 21, 2012 and landed in Ouarzazate, Morocco about 17 hours later. It had failed in its first attempt last week.

Officials said the flight was Solar Impulse’s most difficult destination in its cross-continental journey due to high winds and turbulence over the arid desert.

"It was a beautiful flight," says pilot and project co-founder André Borschberg.

The Solar Impulse made a successful 19-hour 8-minute flight from Madrid, Spain to Rabat, Morocco earlier in June. The month previous, Borschberg, 59, began the journey from Payerne, Switzerland. He landed in Madrid on May 25.

The plane, a marvel of lightweight engineering, is big as an Airbus A340 with a 207-foot wingspan and features 12,000 solar cells in the wings. The carbon-fiber structure is designed to resist the elements but weigh very little.

In fact, it weighs 3,527 pounds, or about 500 pounds less than the average U.S. car. Speed is an average 43.5 mph and getting aloft requires a takeoff speed of about 22 mph. Average maximum altitude is 27,900 feet. It's outfitted with lithium polymer batteries that account for about a quarter of its weight and enable it to fly in the dark.

Officials say the importance of flying to Morocco’s Ouarzazate region is filled with symbolism. "It is related to the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy and Solar Impulse’s common message: to invest in innovative projects today for job creation and sustainable growth while also protecting the environment."

Solar Impulse landed close to the site of what will be a 160 megawatt solar thermal plant. It's part of a complex planned to reach a capacity of 500 megawatts by 2015. The initial plant is based on concentrating solar power technology using parabolic-trough solar collectors with heat storage.

Morocco’s energy plan is to increase the role of solar, wind and hydro power to 42 percent of the country’s total energy production in less than a decade. "Solar Impulse supports the Kingdom’s strategy, aiming to reconcile the country’s socio-economic development and environmental protection needs," according to a post by the Solar Impulse officials.

The next challenge is to fly around the world. “Striving for the impossible is the DNA of our team,” says Bertrand Piccard, initiator, pilot and chairman of Solar Impulse.