The Dutch Nuna vehicle, which will participate in the 3010 km World Solar Challenge ‘Solar Odyssey 2001’ rally through Australia this November, is on its way to Australia. Nuna is a solar powered racing car that uses the most recent European space technology and expertise.
Nuna will first be flown to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia by KLM cargo. From there MASkargo of Malaysia Airlines will transport the car on to Australia. This Friday the Alpha Centauri racing team will also leave for Australia. Once they get there, the team of Dutch students, who designed and built the car, will be busy testing the car until the start of the race on 18 November. The test drives will also give the team members a chance to acclimatise.

Solar Odyssey 2001 is going to be a tough race. Driving from Darwin to Adelaide at the end of November involves crossing 3010 km of Australian desert during the hottest season. It will be a four-day battle against the elements. And yet 40 teams are keen to enter the competition.  


Testing Nuna on the DAF test circuit at St. Oedenrode



Place your bets on Nuna as the winner - it is much more than an ordinary solar powered racing car. Nuna is partly fitted with solar cells which have actually been in outer space, as part of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Alpha Centauri Team, which built Nuna, is supported by Dutch astronaut and Delft University of Technology (TUD) Professor Wubbo Ockels.

If Nuna does win, it will be due in part to the use of space technology. The solar cells used all over the top of the car have never before been used in the race, and they have a very high efficiency. They are dual junction and triple junction gallium arsenide cells, with two or three layers. The sunlight that passes through the top layer, which would normally be wasted, is now used by the second or even third layer. The solar cells are such a recent development that the European Space Agency (ESA) has yet to use them in space. 


Their first space application will be at the end of next year when the SMART-1 lunar mission is launched. One of the jobs of SMART-1 is to test a solar powered ion engine. “No team has ever used such efficient solar cells on their car” says Ramon Martinez, a mechanical engineering student at TUD and leader of the Alpha Centauri Team, which also includes another five TUD students and two students from Amsterdam University.

“Nuna is fitted with 36 solar panels” explained Martinez, “their output is optimised by Maximum Power Point Trackers.” Maximum Power Point Trackers (MPPT) have been used in satellites for years. They optimise the output of the solar panels when they are in the shade, for example when the attitude of the satellite changes relative to the sun. ESA's Rosetta mission to comet Wirtanen, to be launched in January 2003, will also be equipped with MPPTs.

Martinez continued “Nuna will also occasionally be in the shade, which reduces the efficiency of solar cells. But the MPPTs will ensure that the solar cells supply a lot of power and will also stabilise the power. A chip measures the voltage supplied by a solar panel, compares it with the fixed battery voltage, and then determines the best voltage to charge the battery. In this way we can get an efficiency of no less than 97%. Of course, we also need a high-performance battery to operate effectively in poor weather conditions. Depending on the speed, we will be able to travel 250 to 500 km on a full battery.”



Delft University - Nuna II


The batteries are also based on space technology. The 48 large Li-ion cells are connected in series and can supply the solar racing car with 5 kWh of electrical energy. They are specially developed for use in satellites, where high reliability is essential. Nuna's space technology has been made available to the team through ESA's Technology Transfer Programme.


“I think the whole car could easily be launched into space.” jokes Koen Boorsma, who studies aerospace engineering at TUD. He was responsible for the construction of the aluminium frame around the driver, as well as Nuna’s bodywork. “The whole car has to be light and strong. That’s why we built the bodywork in carbon fibre, reinforced on the outside with Kevlar. The Kevlar layer will protect Nuna against the impact of gravel during the race.” Kevlar is extremely strong and is used not only in bullet-proof vests but also in spacesuits, for protection against micrometeorites. Some walls of the International Space Station (ISS) are also reinforced with Kevlar to protect the astronauts.

ESA    Life in Space    Expanding Frontiers    Improving Daily Life    Protecting the Environment    Benefits for Europe 


The Alpha Centauri Team even considered the use of real space suits. Air cooling would adversely affect the aerodynamics of the racing car. As the temperature in the cockpit can be as high as 70°C, a space suit might help. However, in the small cockpit it would be too restrictive. Instead, the pilot will wear a cooling vest with ice cubes.


Another key factor in the race is good communications. From a support vehicle the team will collect data about the temperature and electrical current generated by the solar panels. This information will help the pilot to determine the strategy. “Should you try to drive away quickly from under cloud cover? Or should you try to save energy in that situation? Selecting the best racing strategy should help us to gain an advantage over the other teams.” said Martinez.

To power the GPS navigation system and telecommunications equipment of Nuna, two strips of solar cells measuring 32.5 x 9.1 cm are fitted on each side of the cockpit. These solar cells are the most exotic component of the vehicle as they have actually been in space. They were part of the solar panels of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1993, after performing maintenance on Hubble, ESA astronaut Claude Nicollier brought them back to Earth. These solar cells are of such high quality that they can now be used to make Nuna a real solar powered racing car from outer space.

“Will we win? With this car we stand a pretty good chance.” concluded Martinez. “In theory, we should be able to reach a speed of 190 km/h. In practice it will probably be around 160 km/h, which would still be a record for a solar powered racing car. However, we will only reach that speed on a special test circuit, before the race. During the race itself on public roads the normal Australian speed limits will apply. Greatest competition is expected from the Australian Aurora 101 that won the 1999 World Solar Challenge and the car of the Japanese Honda team that has won twice before. We also have to beat the University of Michigan’s solar car that won the solar car race down Route 66 in July.”

Last year the average speed of the winner was slightly more than 90 km/h. The Alpha Centauri Team hopes to cross the 100 km/h boundary. If it meets this target, it would then also complete the race within a magical four days instead of five.


In the Land-Down-Under, between October 20-24 2003 the Nuna II solar-powered car raced from Darwin to Adelaide, a distance of over 3000 km in a record 30 hours and 54 minutes.  In doing so she beat her own 2001 record by better than a hour and half. The estimated average speed over the course was 97 kph, again more than five kph faster than its earlier record.


The secret of the Nuon Solar Team from Delft University is the Nuna II's improved aerodynamics, its use of space-age carbon fibers that helped cut its weight, and new triple-junction gallium-arsenide solar cells. The cells capture 20% more energy than those used by Nuna II's predecessor.


The second and third place finishers were the Aurora 101 from Melbourne, Australia and MIT's "Tesseract", respectively. Event organizers say that this year's 22 entrants are of a higher standard than previous events.

Congratulations to the team for a job well done and for advancing the cause of clean, sustainable, electric transportation.


For further information about ESA’s contribution to the Nuna, please contact: ESA's Communications Office at ESTEC in Noordwijk

tel. + 31 (0) 71 5653006
fax: + 31 (0) 71 5655728


Alpha Centauri Team  World Solar Challenge  Virtual Solar Challenge  

Hubble Scientific & Technical  SMART-1   ESA Technology Transfer








Aristotle Uni of Thessaloniki, Helios


Faculty of Engineering

Arizona Solar Racing Team - USA

Arizona Solar Racing Team

Auburn University

Sol of Auburn

Sol of Auburn

Aurora Team, Australia


Aurora Vehicle Association

Bochum Solar Car Team

Das SolarCar der Fachhochschule

California Poly S University

SLO Burn  Sidewinder

San Luis Obispo

Clarkson Uni Solar Car Team, USA

The Solar Knights

Delft University - Holland

NUNA I & II 2003

Dell Winston School

The Hunter

Solar Car Challenge

Desert Rose, Northern Territory Uni


Drexel SunDragon Home Page

École de technologie supérieure Quebec

Eclipse V (5)

Éclipse Vehicular Solaire 

École Polytechnique de Montréal


Eko-Auto  Poland


Electron Analytic Corporation

Dark Horse

EAC Skunkworks

George Washington University

George Washington Uni Solar Car

Georgia Institute of Technology

Solar Jackets

Solar Jackets

Heliodet, Germany


Heliodet, Solar Car Team

Helios - Lille, France

Hélios IV

Hautes Etudes d'Ingénieur

Honda Car Company


Illinois State University

Surya, Ratha, Mercury

Illinois State University Team

Iowa State University


Team PrISUm

Jonasun  Japan


Solar Car Paviion

Kansas State University


Solar Car Racing Team

Los Altos Academy of Engineering

Los Altos Solar Car Team

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



McGill University Monteal, Canada


Team iSun

McMaster University


McMaster Uni Solar Car Project

Messiah College Grantham, Penns

Genesis II

Genesis II Solar Racing Team

Michigan State University


Solar Racing Team

Michigan Technological University

Solar Car Team

Minnesota S Uni-Mankato/Winona S Uni

Minnesota Solar Car Team

North Dakota State University

The Double Deuce

Sunsetters - Solar Race Team

Northwestern University


Northwestern University

Nuon Solar Team, Netherlands

Nuon 3

Het Nuon Solar Team

Osaka Sangyo University, Japan

OSU model S

Solar Car Team

Prairie View A&M University


Sun Panthers

Principia College

RA 6

Principia College Solar Car Team

Purdue University


Purdue University Solar Racing

Queen's University Canada

Radiance  Gemini

Queen's Solar Vehicle Team

Red River College 

Red River Raycer

Red River College Solar Car Team

Rice University

Rice University

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Rose-Hulman Solar Car Team

Southern Illinois Uni Edwardsville

Cougar Cruiser

Southern Illinois University

South Bank University, UK

Mad Dog

South Bank Mad Dog Team

South Dakota School Mines & Tech

Solar Motion

South Dakota Solar Motion Team

Southern Taiwan University Tech

Southern Taiwan Solar Team

Stanford University


Stanford Solar Car Project

Tamagawa University - Japan

Tamagawa Solar Challenge Project

Team Futura, Italy


Team Futura

Team SunLake - Japan

Phaethon model

Team SunLake TOYOBO

Texas A&M University

Columbia Sunraycer

Texas A&M Motorsports Team

The Power of One  - Toronto


The Xof1 solar car team

Tufts University


Nerd Girls

University of Alberta

University of Alberta Team

University of Arizona


Solar Racing Team

University of Calgary


UC Calgary Solar Car Team

University of California-Berkeley


California Calsol Team

University of Kansas

Solution, CATalyst

KSU Solar Car Racing Team

University of Kentucky

Gato del Sol II

Solar Car Team

University of Massachusetts 

Spirit of Mass 413

Lowell Solar Racing Team

University of Michigan


University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Borealis III

U of M Solar Vehicle Project

University of Missouri Columbia

Suntiger VI

The Mizzou Solar Car Project

University of Missouri Rolla

Solar Miner V

Solar Minor Car Team 

University of North Dakota

Subzero 3

Team SubZero

University of Ontario Institute of Tech

UOI Solar Vehicle Team

Uni of New South Wales SCR Team

UNSW Sunswift III

New South Wales SCR Team

University of Patras, Hermes

Solar Car Team

University of Pennsylvania


Penn Solar Racing

University of Queensland


Queensland Solar Team

University of South Australia


SA Solar Car Consortium

University of Texas at Austin

Solar Steer

Solar Vehicles Team

University of Texas at El Paso



University of Toronto

Blue Sky

Blue Sky Solar Racing

University of Toulouse


Heliotrope Solar Car Team

University of Utah 


Vehicle Design Team Utah

University of Virginia


UVa Solar Car Team

University of Waterloo

Midnight Sun VIII

Midnight Sun Solar Race Team

University of Western Ontario


Sunstang USP Solar Car Team

USP Solar Car Team

USP Solar Car Team

Western Michigan University

Sunseeker 05

W Michigan Solar Car Team

Yale University

The John Lee

Team Lux












American Solar Challenge

American Tour de Sol

American World Solar Challenge - Formula Sun          

Australian World Solar Challenge

Canadian Solar Discovery Challenge

Dream Cup Solar Car Race Suzuka 2003 - Japan

Japanese World Solar Car Rallye

North American Solar Challenge

Phaethon 2004

Solar Express - Solar Bike Race


SunRace 2003 - Australia

World Solar Car Rally - Japan

World Solar Rallye - Japan










1. Chassis - and seating

2. Mechanics - suspension, steering, brakes

3. Motor and drive train

4. Motor controller

5. Solar Array - usually part of body

6. Batteries or fuel cells

7. Electrical System - and instruments

8. Driver Controls - switches, lighting, etc

9. Bodywork - Screen, etc










A taste for adventure

Solar Cola - a healthier alternative.




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