Mars at Closest Approach

Image from NASA (Australians must look East)

On Tuesday 31 July (early evening in Australia, early morning in the US, 07:45 GMT), Mars makes its closest approach to the earth since 2003. The actual distance is provided by Wolfram Alpha.

Image from fourmilab


ASC 3: The Mountains

Continuing my coverage of the American Solar Challenge (ASC) this coming July, here is the race route again (click to zoom, or check out Google Maps):

Route map, coloured by elevation (from −110 to 4,351 metres or −360 to 14,275 feet)

Notice those mountains! Here is the elevation profile for the route (constructed using elevation data from team 42). The two highlighted sections have average slopes of 1 in 39, which will be a tough climb (click to zoom):

And this is what they look like. Here is Red Canyon Scenic Overlook, coming out of Lander:

Photo by Teddy Pollard (image credit)

ASC 2: The Race to the Start

Continuing my coverage of the American Solar Challenge (ASC) this coming July, it’s worth remembering that the real race has been to design, build, and test cars prior to scrutineering on Friday July 6th. This chart shows progress to date, combining social media reports with submission of pre-event documents (see my annotated team status list for the numbers). It can be seen that some teams are still working on completing their cars, while others are ready to rock and roll.

And here are some construction memories. The chassis for Polytech Solar, the Russian team (89):

Appalachian State University (Sunergy, team 828) display the molds for their Cruiser:

Georgia Tech (team 49) add some finishing touches to their car:

Poly Montreal (Esteban, team 55) test their completed car:

ETS Quebec (Eclipse, team 101) summarise their whole build process:

ASC 1: Introducing the American Solar Challenge

Route map, coloured by elevation (from −110 to 4351 m). Departure dates from the stage stops (black dots) at Gering, Lander, etc. will be 16th, 18th, 20th, and finally 22nd for the short stage from Burns.

It’s time for me to begin my coverage of the American Solar Challenge (ASC) this coming July. Following qualification at Motorsport Park Hastings, Nebraska, this solar-car race will run from Omaha, Nebraska to Bend, Oregon. Scrutineering will start on Friday July 6th, qualification track racing on Tuesday the 10th, and the road race itself will run from Saturday the 14th to Sunday the 22nd. As the map above shows, much of the road race run through some pretty serious mountains (click to zoom).

This ASC poster shows the Cruisers in the first two columns (also available with white background).

Note: this poster has been updated – see here

Currently, 24 solar car teams from 6 countries are entered in the race, in two classes (Cruiser class and Challenger class). I am maintaining an annotated team status list for the race. See also the official ASC social media at     (click on the symbols), and the poster above (click to zoom).

And here is one car – Argo from the University of Illinois:

photo: Anthony Dekker

Midwestern Solar Challenge

On June 3, two of the top Cruiser-class solar cars held a Midwestern Solar Challenge, racing south from St Paul, MN to Ames, IA. The teams were:

Race news


Here is my (totally informal) scoring of the race (see the chart below):

  • Person-kilometres is the race distance times the average number of people carried (which I believe was 4 for PrISUm and 2 for UMNSVP). The first coloured bar shows this, scaled so that 100% is the highest value.
  • Energy input is the number of charges (1, in this case) times battery size. The second coloured bar shows this, scaled so that 100% is the highest value (this bar points downward, because smaller is better).
  • The third coloured bar shows the ratio of these numbers, scaled so that 80% is the highest ratio.
  • We add on (in grey) the practicality scores (I’m estimating 9 for PrISUm and 7 for UMNSVP), scaled so that 20% is the highest practicality.
  • This gives final scores of 100 for PrISUm and 82 for UMNSVP. Congratulations, PrISUm!
  • But will PrISUm still have the advantage when it needs to carry passengers uphill?

Solar Car Racing Status Check #3

In solar car racing news, 29 teams are registered for the American Solar Challenge (ASC) in July. Scrutineering for this race begins on July 6, track racing on July 10, and the road race runs from July 14 to July 22. I am maintaining a detailed information page and teams list for this race. Five teams are attending with cars that raced at WSC 2017 (including one Australian team), although these cars will require adjustment to satisfy ASC rules. Seven other teams had existing cars (including one Russian team). The remaining teams have been building new cars.

ETS’s beautiful new car, Éclipse X, was unveiled on 16 May (picture credit)

Recently unveiled cars for the ASC include Missouri S&T (18 April), Poly Montreal / Esteban (23 April), Georgia Tech (24 April), and ETS Quebec / Eclipse (16 May). A couple of teams have (very sadly) dropped out, while many other teams are frantically working on their cars. Iowa State University (PrISUm) and the University of Minnesota are holding a practice mini-race on June 3 (with cars on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota the day before). Full details on all teams and latest news here.

Many ASC teams are frantically working on their cars – AppState is shown, and they plan to reveal their car on June 22 (picture credit)

The Albi Eco Race was held on May 25 and 26. Bochum won with their SolarWorld GT, while Dokuz Eylül University / Solaris came second, and Polytech Clermont-Ferrand / Bélénos third. Details here.

Albi Eco Race cars (picture credit)

Fourteen teams have registered so far for the 24 hour iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC) at Circuit Zolder in Belgium (September 19 to 23), and Twente will be defending their title there. World champions Nuon might also attend (with an old car). I am maintaining an information page and teams list for this race as well. See also the official iESC social media at  

Circuit Zolder seen from above (imagery: Landsat, solar car photo: Bochum, chart: Scientific Gems). Sunset/sunrise and the phase of the moon are correct for the date

Preparations are also continuing for the SASOL Solar Challenge in South Africa (September 22 to 30). Defending champions Nuon and Japanese team Tokai will attend this event, along with local teams, such as North-West University, Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Johannesburg, Vaal University of Technology, Central University of Technology, and the University of Cape Town.

Albi Eco Race 2018

Timetable (click to zoom)

The Albi Eco Race at Circuit d’Albi in France this weekend had five solar car teams in addition to their other race classes (see also the race start). The weather was fine. You can check out the copious FB photographs from Eco Solar Breizh or the official social media (  and  ). Final results are shown below.

Albi Eco Race cars (image credit)

FR  Eco Solar Breizh 

This team came 14th at Abu Dhabi 2015. It is a French (or rather, Breton) team, started in 2008. They also raced at ESC in 2014, and came third in the 2017 Albi Eco Race. Their car is called Heol, and is a symmetric design. They recently got new solar panels. Final result: 5th.

FR  Bélénos 

This team is from Polytech Clermont-Ferrand. They raced at WSC 2009. Final result: 3rd.

FR  Lycée Jehan de Beauce (Project 28)

This team, from Lycée Jehan de Beauce in Chartres, fielded two cars: SolCar28 (illustrated) and WattSun28. Final result: 4th (WattSun28) and 6th (SolCar28).

DE  Bochum University of Applied Sciences 

This team came 2nd in the WSC 2013 Cruiser class. They came 3rd in the WSC 2015 Cruiser class. They came 2nd in the WSC 2017 Cruiser class. They came second in the 2017 Albi Eco Race. They drove to Circuit d’Albi with their 2011 car, SolarWorld GT. They also took their incredibly beautiful 2015 car, the ThyssenKrupp SunRiser. Both are 2-seat Cruisers. Final result: 1st (SolarWorld GT, 103 laps or 367 km) and 7th (SunRiser, 100 laps but late-race battery problems).

TR  Dokuz Eylül University / Solaris 

This team came 25th at WSC 2015. They came 9th at ESC 2016. Their car is called Destech Solaris, and is a symmetric design. They arrived at Albi very early Friday morning, after a long trip. Final result: 2nd.

This page last updated 15:52 on 27 May 2018 AEST