If you've been following the space and "new energy technology" stories lately, you'll have noticed that what was once a steady drip is now becoming more like a steady trickle, as this article shared by Mr. J.H. attests. But, if you read closely, there's a couple of caveats one might want to think about here:

NASA begins testing of revolutionary e-sail technology

Now, if you're reading closely, you'll have caught a problem inherent in the technology as the story is reporting it:

Testing has started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on a concept for a potentially revolutionary propulsion system that could send spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.

The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.

"The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds - 400 to 750 kilometers per second," said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall's Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. "The E-Sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft."

Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminum wires would produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft's thrust.

Toward then end of the article, there is a bit more information about the basic concept:

Steering can be accomplished by modulating the wire's voltage individually as the spacecraft rotates. Affecting a difference in force applied on different portions of the E-Sail, would give engineers the ability to steer the spacecraft, similar to the sails of a boat.

As the article also points out, this technology is still in proof-of-concept testing phase, which should be completed in approximately two years. As a technology, however, it is both simple, relatively cheap, and would provide - if successful - the means for propelling space probes of possibly very large size, sizes currently impractical to launch from Earth with chemical rockets. One might be able to assemble very large probes from various components in space, and then, utilizing this concept, propell them outward in the solar system using the Sun's own "wind" to sail on the ocean of the solar system.

And that's the rub: for such a technology would be best utilized for a "one way trip", though with modifications of the electrial potential on the "sail' it might be feasible even to envision it for a "return trip": outbound: positive potential, inbound: negative potential. Maybe. Assuming, again, of course, that the technology is actually feasible, for there are a great deal of ifs, ands, and buts to be considered and tested.

THere's another, more disturbing implication here, one that "electric universe" theorists will perhaps easily appreciate: the creation of enormous charge differentials on the "e-sail" would, effectively, create a huge electrical circuit in space from the Sun to the craft. Any local celestial bodies in close proximity to the craft with a relatively different potential might - just possibly might - attract that charge from the sail to the body, much like the local charge differences between the atmosphere and the Earth produce the electrical arcing currents that we know as lightning. Testing will have to perhaps find ways to eliminate (or worse, control) such a phenomenon, if it is even possible.

But assume, for a moment, amidst all this wild and woolly high octane speculation, that this is possible. If so, then what one might be looking at here is a technology that could do double duty, both as a propulsion system, and if need be and under certain local celestrial conditions, as a kind of "lightning weapon" recalling the thunderbolts of the ancient gods. It would be precisely the type of "harmless" technology that one would develop if one were intending to cloak militarization motivations, or to avoid, perhaps, some ancient and forgotten "Cosmic Treaty of Versailles."

See you on the flip side...



  1. I think that the niche for solar sails (in the absence of more-advanced technology) will be ‘freighter runs’ to planets/moons of our Solar System farther-out than Earth. Perhaps continually-scheduled, to have assured-delivery of consumables.

    (Mars through Saturn come to mind, as solar energy is limited in the outer system.)

    They will be cost-effective as the space-travel versions of WalMart or HomeDepot supply-side trucks. Least cost, as opposed to rapid delivery. If you can wait a decade or two for delivery, have I got a bargain for you! (Until the ‘pipeline’ gets established.)

  2. I have always thought that the lack of in-space research on solar sails was fishy. It would take almost zero money and payload to get a 10 ft or 10 meter diameter sail to orbit. Toss it out of the ISS airlock, if you have to. Then, just watch it. Zero cost. Repeat a hundred times to get the specific technologies refined. Simple engineering…

    The lack of the above – even of an astronaut sneaking one up – raises my antenna that some party does not want them developed. It could be the military-industrial complex, or it could be the ‘lightning rod’ effect. Whatever, the (research) silence is deafening…

  3. joseph. i’m more and more impressed with your ability to hold a number of theories in mind without committing to nor losing any nor their posssible repurcussions. aka, your ability to work within the definition of intelligence.

    the perspective of electric universe theory is worth looking into more. we went through similar questions on the space tether and that last probe/impactor sent into an asteroid/comet. eu theorists like thornhill accurately predicted the charge imbalance and violent equalization (lightening) in the latter. they predicted the problems that ensued when the tether was let out as well.

    thank you

  4. It’s uncommon knowledge that the speed of light formula is purposefully wrong. The speed of light slows through various mediums and speeds up upon exiting them. Likely the speed of light is slower in Earth’s atmosphere than it is in the vacuum of nearby space. It’s likely faster outside the solar system and is probably even faster between galaxies. The phenomenon of light speeding up again after passing through a glass of water is very intriguing; it implies it is being both propelled and resisted by the thrust from surrounding fields. It is often thought that light is being conducted by a mysterious ether field that conducts light like a copper wire conducts electricity. Light’s speed is determined by the resistance of the medium it travels through and isn’t a set speed or barrier to speed at all. Now imagine creating a large artificial photon effect around an object which generates an artificial photon around itself. If we could do this might this photon and craft be automatically conducted through the medium it is formed in and propelled at light speed in whatever direction it is aimed in? To slow down might be tricky but I have a feeling once we understand the true nature of light it can be solved. The secret to faster than light travel is finding a way to artificially reduce the medium directly ahead of an artificial photon to zero.

    1. Correction last sentenance: The secret to faster than light travel is finding a way to artificially reduce the resistance of the medium directly ahead of an artificial photon to zero.

  5. This concept is at lest fifty years old there was a article in Life magazine that illustrated it but the vehicle was triangle shape design. Unfortunately the military use of any technology has always been entangled with it’s nonmilitary use. The possibility of the vehicle becoming a interplanetary lightning rod would pose problems especially to a man spacecraft.

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