Last update: 2 July 2017
Perlan Mission II is a purpose-built glider aiming to soar on wind currents to 27.4 kilometres –the stratosphere – as it researches high-altitude flight, climate change and even aviation science related to travel on Mars. As partner of Perlan Project, Airbus is helping push the boundaries of aerospace and discover more about climate change.
Reaching new heights
The Perlan 2 glider plane is essentially a spacecraft with an 84-foot wingspan, engineered to fly in conditions that mirror the surface of Mars. But before it can reach its record-breaking goal of soaring to 90,000 ft (27.4 km), the Perlan Project team has first made few test runs much closer to Earth. These trials began on 23 September 2015 at the Redmond Airport in Redmond, Oregon, when the glider succesfully completed its first ever test flight.
In July 2017, Airbus Perlan Mission II launched its second season of flight testing in El Calafate, Argentina. This Patagonian region is one of a few places on earth where a combination of mountain winds and the polar vortex create the world’s highest “stratospheric mountain waves” – rising air currents that Perlan pilots believe can eventually carry their experimental aircraft to the edge of space.
As partner of the Perlan Project, Airbus is lending its technical expertise, as well as financial support.
Learning valuable lessons
At 90,000 feet, the Perlan 2 must be engineered to fly in less than 3% of normal air density and at temperatures of -70°C. The mission will harvest invaluable data for scientists worldwide to help update and improve existing climate models.
The Perlan glider plane will investigate the interaction between the troposphere, the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the layer above it, the stratosphere, as well as collecting data on the depletion of the ozone layer, which filters out harmful UV rays. The Airbus Perlan Mission II will also gain experience in very high altitude flight, an area of interest for Airbus for future aerospace applications.
Inspiring through science
Uncharting unknown territory—that’s every scientist’s dream,” says Chief Meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin. It’s with Austin’s expertise that the perfect brew of climactic conditions has been determined to help launch the Perlan II up into the stratosphere. Very little is known about the stratosphere because there have been no aircraft that can remain at level flight at altitude long enough to gather data.
As the glider flies toward its goal of 90,000 ft, atmospheric science experiments and research on ozone depletion and climate change can be conducted.
Onboard flight and weather sensors are planned for the Perlan 2, and partner high schools and universities has submitted cube-sat experiment proposals to be carried onboard the craft. Students may measure things like winds, UV, temperature, ozone, even take biological samples.
Wisdom begins with wonder
“A major aspect of the Airbus Perlan Mission II is to inspire young people to go into STEM subjects because they see that you can do cool stuff with it,” says Perlan Project board member Stéphane Fymat. “The heyday of the US space programme was so inspiring, and when it slowed down, a lot of people were left wanting. Now, they’re the ones getting involved in innovative aerospace endeavours like ours.”
“We’re going to have multiple masters’ and PhD students writing their meteorological, aviation and aeronautical engineering theses on this project. The Perlan Mission’s longevity is extended thanks to their research of those shaping aerospace’s future.” Elizabeth AustinPerlan Project Chief Meteorologist