By Kevin Sanford
GRANTHAM, PA July 20, 2001 A team of engineers from Messiah College were busy putting the final touches on their solar-powered car last week in anticipation of this past Sundays commencement of the American Solar Challenge.
Led by Callicoons own Sarah Highhouse, the Messiah team, known as Genesis, is racing its car against nearly 60 other corporate and collegiate entries. The race began in Chicago and spans 2,300 miles before concluding in southern California on July 25.
Sarahs parents, Ron and Judy Highhouse, were invited to drive one of the support vehicles for the duration of the race.
Were very proud of our daughter and thrilled to be invited, said Sarahs father about the race. Its a wonderful school and a wonderful program.
Although Genesis teams have competed in solar races before, this years race is especially rigorous for a number of reasons. The length and path of the race, for example, are drastically different than those of years past. Formerly, the longest distance covered by a Genesis team car was 1,300 miles. In addition, the American Solar Challenge will take place in temperature and terrain extremes never before faced in competition.
Another difference in this years race is the expanded competition. For the first time, entry in the race will be open to private companies, clubs and individuals (hitherto it had been restricted to college and university teams).
Having spent the last two years improving upon their cars design, the Messiah engineers are confident that they can better their 1999 Sunrayce outing, when they finished seventh out of 29 competitors.
Some of the more notable improvements include new space-grade solar cells donated to the team by the New Jersey-based EMCORE corporation and an overall weight reduction of nearly 300 lbs. (from 771 lbs. to 500 lbs.). The new solar array will nearly double the cars efficiency and allow it to sustain speeds 15 mph faster than the previous design, without drawing from the cars battery cell (the cars cruising speed is 55 mph). Also, a new lightweight lithium-ion polymer battery will allow for increased energy storage, and an all-new electrical system will provide real-time statistics to the team to help them calculate efficiency rates enroute.
Highhouse, who is piloting the craft, spent the past year improving the cars braking system for her senior project. With the steep grades that will be encountered in the Rocky Mountains, it is imperative that the brake design is reliable and will not overheat.
When the Genesis team tested their improvements at the 125-mile pre-qualifier in Topeka, Kansas, they set a record for the fastest lap.
Youre definitely awake. Its rough, Sarah said about driving the car. Youre lying down, looking up or straining your neck to see out. The motor is running in your ear, and you have on earphones. Your arms get really tired because you get knocked from side to side its like riding a luge.
Anyone interested in following the race can do so online at www. formulasun.org/asc for the American Solar Challenge or www.messiah. edu/genesis for Genesis 01.