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Monday, January 31, 2005

Super Light Sail Could Shorten Mars Trip to One Month

Artist's depiction of the Planetary Society's solar sail.
Artist's depiction of the Planetary Society's solar sail.
Credit: The Planetary Society
Forum member tricky1992000 has let us know of a fantastic new method of interplanetary propulsion based on a new type of light sail. Traditional light sails rely on light from the sun or a laser striking the surface of a huge, thin material connected to a spacecraft for propulsion. This method results in good flight times for long duration flights, but that isn't enough for normal interplanetary travel. Other methods of propulsion either are expensive, take too long, or are controversial.

Now we may have the answer. Famous author-physicist Gregory Benford and his brother have developed a revolutionary new type of light sail that relies on gas particles trapped in the fabric of the sail. As the source of light (Benford suggests an upgraded Deep Space Network) strikes the target, the gas heats up and is expelled out the back, providing propulsion. As the gas is depleted, the sail becomes an ordinary light sail, still capable of propulsion.

With flight times reduced to one month, down from the six of a conventional rocket, trips to Mars can be made safer and cheaper, with more ability to do science. If the method works out, our solar system could be filled with light sail craft, with propulsion stations placed around the system to provide quick and cheap transportation to all of Earth's colonies.

(More info: New Scientist)

- posted by Brian @ 14:59 EST