Earth To Mars In A Month With Painted Solar Sail

Gregory Benford, professor of physics at UC Irvine (and noted science fiction author) believes that a spacecraft powered by a special kind of solar sail could reach Mars in just one month.

Dr. Benford and his brother James were testing a very thin carbon-mesh sail, using microwaves as the energy source for propulsion. Unexpectedly, the sail experienced a force considerably greater than predicted. They theorized that the heat from the microwave beam was causing carbon monoxide gas to escape from the sail's surface; the recoil from the escaping molecules provided what could be a useful adjunct to the propulsive force experienced by light sails.

They believe that by beaming microwave energy up from Earth to boil off volatile molecules from a specially formulated paint applied to the sail will provide enough added force to propel a spacecraft to Mars in record time. "It's a different way of thinking about propulsion," Gregory Benford says. "We leave the engine on the ground." Their research will be published this month in the journal Acta Astronautica.


(From Carbon sail lifting against gravity under 5 kW microwave beam illumination.)

This is how it would work: a rocket would take the craft to low-Earth orbit, whereupon the craft would unfurl a 100 meter diameter sail. A transmitter on Earth would fire a one-hour burst of microwaves at it to heat it up, accelerating the craft to 60 kilometres per second. This would set an interplanetary speed record for space probes.


(From At 21,000 Km/hr, Mars is close.)

However, more work is needed to make this possible. The plan would require a 60-megawatt microwave beam with a similar diameter as the sail that was capable of tracking the craft. The deep-space communications network that NASA uses to communicate with Mars rovers and the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn can only output half a megawatt.

If this design could work, it would make significant progress in the use of ground-based beam-propulsion designs. As science fiction readers know, this topic was explored in the 1974 novel Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They used the idea of laser cannon from Robert L. Forward's 1961 paper Ground-Based Lasers For Propulsion In Space to bring an alien spacecraft to our solar system. Readers may also wish to explore early sf looks at solar sails.

Read a bit more about Gregory Benford; the article First Flight By A Laser-Powered Airplane chronicles an earlier effort at ground-based propulsion. See also Solar super-sail could reach Mars in a month and Acceleration of Sails by Thermal Desorption of Coatings (pdf).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/9/2005)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 9 )

Related News Stories - (" Space Tech ")

Miners! NASA Wants To License RASSOR Excavator
'The borers had been dismantled and packed away.' - Ray Cummings, 1930.

Starshade Will Help Space Telescope To Search For Exoplanets
'When it found planetary systems in its field, automatically shifted upon them a higher powered telespectroscope ...' - Edmond Hamilton, 1936.

Yes, But Do Astrobees Have Lasers For Lightsaber Training?
'... Ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.' - George Lucas, 1977.

Japan Uses Explosives On Asteroid
'...a tiny, rocket-powered projectile, drove towards the mysterious bulk. It hit, exploding into a cloud of incandescent vapour.' - EC Tubb, 1958.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Miners! NASA Wants To License RASSOR Excavator
'The borers had been dismantled and packed away.'

Bee+ Robobee Now With Four Wings
'It was a tiny thing, scarcely more than an inch and a half in length...'

CNSILK Robotic Spider Builder
'We could certainly spin a web right through the Solar System, if we can think of a good use for one.'

Starshade Will Help Space Telescope To Search For Exoplanets
'When it found planetary systems in its field, automatically shifted upon them a higher powered telespectroscope ...'

Tiny LEDs Developed For Dust-Sized Computers
'They use sparkles to talk to each other...'

Is There Extraterrestrial Life Here In The Solar System
'How fast is it moving? ...one meter per minute.'

Can We Comprehend Deep Learning Systems?
'Youíve nothing remotely like it, so I canít describe it to you.'

Skin Electronics Can Show Electrocardiogram
'... the young men in the streets who applied polyimde OLED body film to their bared shoulders.'

Chinese Fern Helps Remediate Arsenic Soil
'Bioengeering had put out a spec report on the long crawly things five months back.'

Skai Air Taxi Costs The Same As Uber
'The air-taxi found its way past and around other ground-cars...'

Neurodevices For Consumers? Neuroethicists (And Philip K Dick) Say 'Caveat Emptor'
'They tried to use it today and it wouldn't work. No colors and no ceph patterns, neither one...'

NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge Won By AI SpaceFactory
3D printing - on Mars!

The Future Of Elon Musk's Neuralink
'Cerebral Electromagnetic Emmission Amplification and Relay System ó call it artificial telepathy, if you like.'

Researchers Make You Say Anything in Videos
'[It] caused his televised image... to mouth the vowels and consonants beautifully.'

Jeff Bezos Tries Waldoes (Robotic Hands)
'Waldo put his arms into the primary pair before him...'

Asimov and Musk - Boring Company Tunnel vs. Street Race
'There was almost no sound, just a steady velvety whirr as the taxi sped along.'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.