Science Fiction Dictionary
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

 

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 ")

Triple Star System Tears Apart Its Planetary Disk
'Our planet, Ev, hangs spinning in the triangle formed by the three, and the three suns revolve slowly around it.' - Edwin K. Sloat, 1933.

TransAstra Lunar Mining Idea Was Max Valier's In 1931
'This concentrated sunlight... would cause subsurface ice to sublimate into water vapor...' - Max Valier, 1931.

'Human Augmentation' Necessary, Says Space Force Scientist
'Neural circuits buzzed and every sense and response in his body was accelerated by a ratio of five.' - Alfred Bester, 1956.

NASA MOXIE Extracts Oxygen From Mars' Air
'Making oxygen is the trick...' - Greg Bear, 2014.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Science Fiction Timeline
1600-1899
1900-1939
1940's   1950's
1960's   1970's
1980's   1990's
2000's   2010's

Current News

AliveCor Claims Apple Watch Infringes ECG Patents
'...a sweet mezzo-soprano voice remarked in a conversational tone: "I think you should sit down and rest for about ten minutes.'

Triple Star System Tears Apart Its Planetary Disk
'Our planet, Ev, hangs spinning in the triangle formed by the three, and the three suns revolve slowly around it.'

Ford's In-Car Ads From Billboards
'It would soon squeeze in and harangue him in the cranky, garbagey fashion of the Nitz advertisements.'

TransAstra Lunar Mining Idea Was Max Valier's In 1931
'This concentrated sunlight... would cause subsurface ice to sublimate into water vapor...'

Tic-Tac-Toe Robot From Pollen Robotics
'Was all his talk about the consciousness and intelligence of machines merely a prelude...'

Rich (and Regular) People Should Stop Eating Meat, Says Bill Gates
'You can get used to the taste difference.'

IconicSounds Electric - BMW EV Scored By Hans Zimmer
'...and a sound tape to supply the noise.'

Soft Polymer 'Synaptic Transistors' Mimic Brain Plasticity
'He had then applied countless different electrical vibrations to this metallic brain-stuff...'

'Human Augmentation' Necessary, Says Space Force Scientist
'Neural circuits buzzed and every sense and response in his body was accelerated by a ratio of five.'

Grow Wood Without Trees
Pretty soon, you'll start seeing this term on very expensive items.

Biohybrid Robotics USArmy Adds Muscle Tissue To Robots
'Great rectangular slabs of muscle, slung into a rectangular frame.'

China Requires Social Credit Codes Of Live Stream Users
'Every man has his characteristic strakh...'

African Gray Parrot Given Vehicle To Drive
It's an old story, but it "checks out", as fans say.

NYPD Dog Robot Called Out As Sfnal
Reality now features props from science fiction television.

Autonomous Russian Greenhouse For ISS Wheat
'We saw the gardens, flooded with artificial sunlight, planted with everything imaginable, that supplied the necessary food.'

NASA MOXIE Extracts Oxygen From Mars' Air
'Making oxygen is the trick...'

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.