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 ")

Humanity Star LEO Advertisement?
'Everyone has noticed those enormous advertisements...' Jules Verne, 1889.

Bigelow Prepares Inflatable Lunar Hotel
'Suddenly, hitherto unheard-of sums of money became available for investment in civilian orbital stations.' - Carl Sagan, 1985.

NASA SEXTANT First With X-Ray Nav In Space
'You need at least four beacons for an accurate fix.' - Harry Harrison, 1956.

Subsurface Martian Ice Slabs Piece Of Cake For Miners
'One shy little fellow with bloodshot eyes of old-time drillman stood up. 'I'm an ice miner,' he said.' - Robert Heinlein, 1966.

 

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

A 'Genuine Nanorobotic Production Factory'
'Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully - constructing something...'

Neuromorphic Computer Offers Non-von Neumann Architecture
Fires faster than brain at 1/10K energy.

Evorus Your Crowd-Powered Conversational Assistant
'...the DS [Daily Schedule] was suddenly transformed into a valued confidante.'

Mealworms Food Of The Future
Get your grubs on.

Alibaba's AI May Read Better Than You
'Mike ... could accept other languages and was doing technical translating - and reading endlessly.'

Musk's Boring Flamethrower
'Skeletons in tatters. Burned by a flesh gun'

Humanity Star LEO Advertisement?
'Everyone has noticed those enormous advertisements...'

Nissan ProPILOT Slippers Are Self-Parking, Autonomous
Beyond science and fiction.

Atomristors - Atomic Memristors - Using Thin Nanomaterials
'I could almost feel those little tunnel junction neuristors working, forming their own interconnections as I operated it.'

Bigelow Prepares Inflatable Lunar Hotel
'Suddenly, hitherto unheard-of sums of money became available for investment in civilian orbital stations.'

Drunk Driver Of Tesla Claims Autopilot Was In Charge
'Mr. Garden, you are in no condition to drive.'

Medical Exoskeleton From Cyberdyne Gets FDA Approval
It's been a long road for HAL-5; I started writing about it in 2005.

Fungi-Infused Concrete Repairs Itself
'I noticed that curious mottled knots were forming, indicating where the room had been strained and healed faultily.'

Shiftwear Display Shoes
'He unlaced her shoe and glanced at its readout.'

NASA SEXTANT First With X-Ray Nav In Space
'You need at least four beacons for an accurate fix.'

GM Introduces Cruise AV With No Steering Wheel
'How about the steering wheel?' ... 'I do not need one.'

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.