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Jun 25, 2013 | Atlanta, GA
The forecast calls for sunny weather this week in Austin, Texas, which is good news for 11 Georgia Tech students whose solar-powered car – the Endeavour – makes its racing debut there this Thursday at the Formula Sun Grand Prix.
The annual competition pits student-built cars from 12 North American universities against one another to test their handling of curves, braking and acceleration, all powered by the sun. The winner is determined by the total number of laps completed during three days of racing.
“I haven't competed before, so I'm really looking forward to watching our car race against other schools,” said Douglas Cox, a mechanical engineering major, Solar Jackets president and one of four drivers of the Endeavour. He and about 35 other students have been building the Endeavour for the past three years. “It'll be great to learn from the other schools as well, as some of them have been building and racing solar cars for years.”
The weeklong competition began Monday with three days of “scrutineering,” where professional engineers assess each car to ensure it meets race regulations pertaining to safety, driver comfort and solar cells, as well as performance tests for turning, braking and handling. Four drivers will rotate during racing to relieve one another from the small interior space.
In recent weeks, an electrical team has been working to finalize airgap settings, which affect speed, as well as implement battery management systems, digital controls, data logging and other communications systems.
The Endeavour is topped with solar panels from Suniva, a spinoff company from Georgia Tech’s University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics, and SBM Solar. The Endeavour can run for about two hours with no sunlight, but theoretically could run forever if the sun never set.
“We're still testing for how long it takes to charge from empty to full charge, but the hope is that we'll run the car at a low enough speed that will use only as much or slightly more energy than the sun is giving us, which would allow us to race all day without any breaks,” Cox said.
The team completing the fastest single lap is recognized, in addition to the winner, but for Cox, the real prize is “the glory of knowing you’ve raced a car on solar power alone.”
The car’s namesake and number come from the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-49. After the Endeavour completes its races in Austin, it will make its way back to Atlanta and go on display at sponsor companies’ headquarters and on campus at the FASET Opportunities Fair. The Solar Jackets’ next endeavor – pun intended – will be to further optimize their car for future races, as well as begin working on designs for a new lighter and faster car.