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 ")

Moon Express Lunar Robot Mining: Shine On, Harvest Moon
'The bulldozer moved through the lunar strip mine... ' - Pournelle and Niven, 1981.

Asteroid Deflection With DART
'This obelisk is one huge deflector mechanism...' Gene Roddenberry, 1968.

Unrolling The Filmy Materials Of Space Tech
'When unfolded and unrolled... it became a tough, gleaming film.' - Jack Vance, 1962.

Bake in Space Bake-Off... In Space!
'A joyous condition commenced for the cook in the electric kitchen...' - Otto Willi Gail, 1929.

 

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

Desktopography Makes Virtual Desktops Real
'Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions...'

LaWS Laser Can Take Out Rogue Drones
Looks like a weapon for the Runaway squad!

Moon Express Lunar Robot Mining: Shine On, Harvest Moon
'The bulldozer moved through the lunar strip mine... '

Liquid Body Armor For TALOS Exoskeleton
'... instantly became rigid all over when something struck it...'

Hyperloop One Video Shows It Works!
'Complete evacuation of the interior of the tubes [and] a wave that provides the new propulsive energy for the cars...'

Chairless Chair Exoskeleton By Sapetti
'Earth's scientists... devised rigid metallic clothing...'

Publishing Technologies In Science Fiction
Well, this should be enough references to start...

Russia Working On Military Exoskeletons
'Вы похожи на большую стальную гориллу...'

3D Printed Bionic Chinese Skin
Your skin is ready!

Flexup Tire Design Good For Tumblebugs
'Each spoke telescopes into five sections.'

3D Printed Graphene Aerogel - So Light!
'... light as cork and stronger than steel...'

Asteroid Deflection With DART
'This obelisk is one huge deflector mechanism...'

Translate One2One From IBM's Watson Your Communication Solution
'It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix...'

News Now Philip K. Dick's Bailiwick
'A vast complex electronic organism... responsible to no one...'

Autonomous BADGER Robot Drilling Machine
'The compacted matter... makes a better tunnel lining than concrete, don't you think?'

TALOS Exoskeleton Development Proceeding
'Suited up, you look like a big steel gorilla...'

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.