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Solar Sail Craft Need Laminated Mouse Brains

Navigation computers for spacecraft with solar sails will need to consider relativistic effects, according to a new paper published by Roman Ya. Kezerashvili and Justin F. Vazquez-Poritz.

Responding to an increasing demand for navigational accuracy, we consider a number of general relativistic effects on the escape trajectories of solar sails. For missions as far as 2,550 AU, these effects can deflect a solar sail by as much as one million kilometers. We also find that frame dragging due to the slow rotation of the sun can deflect a solar sail by more than one thousand kilometers.

For example, a solar sail deployed at 0.01 AU (astronomical units - about 93 million miles) can be deflected due to the curvature of spacetime near the sun, while the kinematic effects of special relativity contribute to a lesser degree. Lesser effects include redshifting of sunlight and the slowing down of the passage of time near the sun.

Obviously, we're going to need a very fast and competent computer to act as the pilot - and for that, we're going to need laminated mouse brains.

In his 1962 classic Think Blue, Count Two, Cordwainer Smith writes about special computing devices for solar sail craft on long voyages between the stars.

...Tiga-belax came in, very cheerful indeed... In his right hand there was a black plastic cube wih shimmering contact-points gleaming on its sides. The two technicians greeted him politely.

"I've got that beautiful child taken care of... I've used a mouse-brain."

"If it's frozen," said the first technician, "we won't be able to put in the computer..."

"This brain isn't frozen," said Tiga-belas indignantly. "It's been laminated. We stiffened it with celluprime and then we veneered it down, about seven thousand layers. Each one has plastic of at least two molecules thickness. This mouse can't spoil. As a matter of fact, this mouse is going to keep on thinking forever. He won't think much, unless we put the voltage on him, but he'll think. And he can't spoil..."


(Rat brain cells form organized clusters - a brain chip)

As it turns out, scientists are hard at work creating brain chips with real brains; see Brain Chips With Uniform Self-Organized Neurons for more information.

From MITs Technology Review blog and the original paper Escape Trajectories of Solar Sails and General Relativity.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/21/2009)

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