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Midnight Sun Gears Up to Get Down Under for the World Solar Challenge

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The University of Waterloo Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car team fresh off of unveiling the 10th iteration of their car, Midnight Sun X, is gearing up for this year’s World Solar Challenge (WSC) after being absent from the competition since 2007.

Teams from all around the world travel to Australia to compete in the challenge which spans 3000 kilometers from the north coast at Darwin through the outback to Adelaide on the south coast.

Held every other year, this iteration of the World Solar Challenge will feature cars from just under 20 different countries from around the world. Three other entrants from Canada will be competing hailing from the University of Toronto, University of Calgary, and École de technologie supérieure.

Compared to the North American Solar Challenge, the WSC is more demanding for teams as once the race starts, its continuous right until teams cross the finish line. Typically, teams need 6 days of travel time to complete the 3000 kilometer trek. By comparison, the NASC is held in stages so teams have the opportunity to fully recharge their batteries at the start of each stage. Strategy plays a huge part in coming out on top during the WSC and one needs to look at a variety of variables, including weather reports, to remain competitive.

During the WSC 2007, the team placed 9th in the challenge class and 2nd in the production class for the specific solar cell the team used. According to Team Manager, Kevin Kyeong, most teams use the more efficient and expensive Gallium Arsenide based solar cells. Due to costs, the team uses the lesser efficient Crystalline Silicon based cells.

The team has worked hard over the last two years to put together the car and getting to Australia was no easy feat says Kyeong, “Trying to get to Australia itself is a ton of work.  Figuring out exactly what needs to be shipped and handing all these information to customs. Building a shipping crate is also another thing.  The crate needs to have certain types of wood so that it meets Australian import regulations.”

Once the car is shipped, the work doesn’t stop there, “other things to take care of are to arrange rental vehicles that the team will be using during the race. It is important to figure out the race crew first and assign roles to each of them. Then, sort out who will be in the lead vehicle, chase vehicle, truck vehicle, and the schedule for the solar car drivers.”

Drivers will face 45 degree temperatures inside the vehicle during the race while driving through the outback and will be in the car for 4 hours at a time each over the course of the day. The team uses a cooling system similar to what’s used in race cars which direct air from the outside directly on the driver without creating air wake around the vehicle.

The team hopes to complete the race in 5 days hoping the car will perform without suffering many problems compared to the race back in 2007 where, according to Kyeong, “we had some breakdowns on the road for the first couple of days.  For the last couple of days of the race (the whole race was 6 days), we managed to not have any breakdowns on road and the car was in a much better condition.”
Overall the team is optimistic about their performance and looking forward to the race which begins only 17 days from the publication of this article.

The team is also actively recruiting new members to work on the current car and begin thinking about the next generation solar car. Kyong offers this advice for getting involved, “getting involved with the team is rather easy. It’s really about committing oneself to the team. Many students seem to get lost in the process of joining the team. I think my best advice to them is to keep showing up to the Midnight Sun bay and contributing work to the team whether that be of your interest or not, because it’s really about being part of the team before you can get your hands on the projects of your interest.”

The World Solar Challenge begins on October 16th and runs until the 23rd of October. You can track the progress of the race by visiting http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org.

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