LIGHT SAILS: THE NEXT STEP IN SPACE?September 18, 2018
The past few weeks have been absolutely crazy with all sorts of "weird space news." First came the story that the Soyuz space capsule, the workhorse used to shuttle cosmonauts and astronauts to the international space station, had been pierced by a micro-meteor and that the international space station was outgassing until the German astronaut aboard plugged the hole with his finger until "a more permanent temporary seal" could be put into place. The the chairman of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, Dmitri Rogozin, indicated that there were increasing suspicions in Russia either of on-the-ground incompetence, or that the hole had been deliberately drilled and that sabotage may be involved. Most recent updates to the story are now indicating that the may be more damage than was initially reported (more than one hole?) and that Mr. Rogozin has been in communication with NASA director Jim Bridenstine, and that Russia still has not ruled out sabotage.
For the most recent update on this story, Mr. ACM shared this article:
While all this was going on, Mr. Elon Musk unveiled more of his plans for a "space liner" to take people on "cruises" around the Moon (where they can no doubt "phone home" using that 4G network a German firm wants to build up there for some unknown reason); this was shared by Mr. ACM once again:
I won't bother to rehearse here what the article makes abundantly clear: Musk's rocket plans are big, really big, and, as the article itself states, Musk is very honest and candid about the risks of manned space flight to Mars.
And then there was the story about the shutdown of the Richard B. Dunn solar observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, which I blogged about yesterday, and about which I offered some high octane speculation on last Friday's Members' Vidchat, during the pre-chat session. There's more about that telescope than meets the eye (so to speak), and about the whole situation surrounding it, and its timing, that gives me pause.
All of this review brings me to the heart of my blog today, which is this story that was passed along by Mr. B.G., about NASA's and Caltech's upcoming tests of a "solar" or "light sail":
While it's not as "glamorous" as NASA's and DARPA's "one hundred year WARP capability" goal, it is a lot more glamorous - and a lot more practical - than a giant rocket. The idea is not only simple, but within the feasible boundaries of current technology:
Before man can cross the vast distances of space, the designs of spacecraft's sails will be key – striking a delicate balance between mass, strength and reflectivity.Working with NASA, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists have created the new material out of silicon and its oxide, silica.The team has figured out that super-thin structures made of this composite can transform infrared light waves into a momentum that would accelerate a probe to 134,000,000 mph.
Speeds like this can carry a small probe to our closest stellar neighbours, a huddle of stars called Proxima centauri, within decades rather than millennia.
And it will enable humans to search nearby solar systems for extra-terrestrial life.
The idea is to use a laser to coherently shoot a stream of photons at infrared wavelengths at a “light net”, or sail, attached to a spaceship.
See you on the flip side...