A team of Iowa State University students are busy putting the finishing touches to a solar-powered vehicle before setting off on a thousand mile race. Using computer-aided design and some novel engineering techniques, the students' three wheel craft weighs half that of previous creations and sports over 500 solar cells. Hopes are high for a winning result in the forthcoming American Solar Challenge.

This year's craft is Iowa State University's tenth solar-powered vehicle to race, and the students say it's the best yet. After two years of development and spending some US$250,000, the PrISUm team have opted for a three wheel approach for their current offering - the Anthelion. This means a lighter vehicle, less rolling resistance, and the ability to center the electric motor for improved balance and handling.

In order to shed even more weight, the students have also carefully hollowed out sections of select components, not enough to weaken them but enough to significantly lighten the load. They took this approach with the suspension uprights, which connect the upper and lower suspension arms to the wheel and axle assemblies.

Team members have developed new magnesium alloy wheel mounts to overcome previous problems with mounting tires on the wheels, shedding yet more weight in the process. At less than 30 pounds, including the batteries fitted onto the carbon fiber shell, the Anthelion is about half the weight of the team's previous effort.

The students hope that they've also managed to isolate and fix issues with the battery protection system and electronics, which caused on-the-road problems for the university's 2008 outing.

The Anthelion has just received a custom paint job and is currently undergoing road testing to make sure it's ready for the qualifying rounds at the Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, Texas between the 12th and 18th of June.

Then it's on to the event proper, the American Solar Challenge. Running from June 20 to June 26, the Challenge will see 13 U.S. teams, two from Canada and one each from Germany and Taiwan compete in a cross-country time/distance rally from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to Naperville, Illinois - a distance of 1,100 miles (1,770 km).

The route for this year's race is a combination of pieces from previous events, commemorating the 20 year history of the American Solar Challenge. Competitors will travel through Noesho (Missouri), Topeka (Kansas), Jefferson City (Missouri), Rolla (Missouri), Alton (Illinois), Normal (Illinois) and finish in Naperville (Illinois). The Awards Ceremony will be held at Wentz Hall in Naperville on the evening of June 26.