Friday, July 17, 2015

Word of the Day -- Solar Sail

Space Travel by sail anyone?
Solar sails (also called light sails or photon sails) are a form of spacecraft propulsion using the radiation pressure (also called solar pressure) from stars to push large ultra-thin mirrors to high speeds. Light sails could also be driven by energy beams to extend their range of operations, which is strictly beam sailing rather than solar sailing.

Solar sail craft offer the possibility of low-cost operations combined with long operating lifetimes. Since they have few moving parts and use no propellant, they can potentially be used numerous times for delivery of payloads.

Solar sails use a phenomenon that has a proven, measured effect on spacecraft. Solar pressure affects all spacecraft, whether in interplanetary space or in orbit around a planet or small body. A typical spacecraft going to Mars, for example, will be displaced by thousands of kilometres by solar pressure, so the effects must be accounted for in trajectory planning, which has been done since the time of the earliest interplanetary spacecraft of the 1960s. Solar pressure also affects the attitude of a craft, a factor that must be included in spacecraft design.

The total force exerted on an 800 by 800 meter solar sail, for example, is about 5 newtons (1.1 lbf) at Earth's distance from the Sun, making it a low-thrust propulsion system, similar to spacecraft propelled by electric engines.

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