This high speed space sail can take us to the following star systems

Artist’s depiction of the Starshot Lightsail spacecraft during acceleration with a ground-based laser array.

Masumi Shibata / hack initiatives

Only about 4 light-years from our solar system lies Alpha Centauri, another bustling space neighborhood. It’s installed by three stars With the same function as our sun, it bears planets similar to our famous eight bodies and may have an Earth twin Hang around in the habitable zone. Almost like an alternate reality, the star system is a bewildering area for space explorers.

There is only one clear case. With our current technology, sent spacecraft won’t reach Alpha Centauri until about the year 82022. That’s why, in 2016, the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and investor Yuri Milner Launched Starshot hackAn initiative to send wafer-sized space probes to Alpha Centauri at 20% the speed of lightreducing the huge travel time to just 20 years.

Their scheme focuses on an optical sail that harnesses the power of photons, also known as particles of light, emitted by a ground-based laser, rather than the wind like a traditional sail. Although it fits perfectly with the sci-fi technology of Star Trek, the idea has gained so much popularity that researchers everywhere are beginning to study how to make the alien gadget work, hoping to produce a hyper-engine that is exploding across the universe at dizzying rates.

One such team from the University of Pennsylvania tackles a large piece of the puzzle. at A couple of papers published this month in Nano LettersAnd the Researchers have proposed a way to ensure that these innovative spacecraft are not torn apart by intense laser pulses during the two-decade interstellar flight. Essentially, the researchers suggest that the sail should “flow” in the vacuum of space like the sails of ordinary boats amid the Earth’s winds.

the closest

Illustration of what one of the stars of Alpha Centauri, Proxima Centauri, might look like. The red dwarf star can be seen in the center, its planets nearby and the other two binary stars Alpha Centauri in the background.

Lorenzo Santinelli

“Some of the light-sail numbers from the beginning were sloshing, some weren’t, but they haven’t been well studied,” said study author Igor Bargatin, associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. “What we did was show that you definitely need to bloat.

“We realized that people didn’t really consider the mechanisms of the problem, in particular, the possibility of crying,” Bargatin added. “We want to make sure that idea is realized, and when it is realized, people pay attention to the things that can happen during acceleration.

“We don’t want these sails to fail.”

Parameters of the interstellar ship

Imagine a boat venturing out to sea with a sail attached to it. The sail will rise with every gust of wind and propel the ship forward. This thrust is caused by the recoil of the wind hitting the sail, creating pressure.

Lightsails are not much different.

“When the photons hit our light sail, they are reflected and they also create pressure,” Bargatin said. “The exact mechanism is a little different because we’re talking light versus actual air molecules. But it does create pressure though either way.” In fact, such devices have already proven to some extent effective.

In 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency It launched a light sail mission called Ikaros She considered it a success. in 2019, LightSail demo 2 Affiliate lawsuit. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign started by Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, it flew a small satellite into space using the pure power of a photon.


The solar sail that was the focus of Japan’s Ikarus project.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

But both Ikaros and LightSail 2 use light emitted by the sun, unlike Breakthrough Starshot’s vision of lasers.

Although sunlight reduces the risk of tears, it is too weak for a Starshot attempt. Additionally, Bargattin says, the Starshot’s light pulses should occur within a relatively short time because once the light sail is too far from Earth, scientists lose their ability to effectively accelerate it.

In short, to reach a fifth of the speed of light – so that it can reach Alpha Centauri in the required twenty years – within a strict window, the lights would need extremely strong light pulses that are only possible with a laser.

Light Chill

Artist rendering of Lightsail 2 orbiting the Earth.

Planetary Society

“The designed pressures on our photonic nails are not huge,” Bargatin said. “It’s almost like having a penny in your hand.” Scientifically speaking, pressure adds up to about 10 Pa, says Bargatin, but consider how we live our lives without worrying about light pressure. Absolutely.

Ten Pas of light power requires a great deal of laser energy, so unlike the Icarus dance of gentle sunlight, light nails emitted by extremely harsh laser pulses can be damaged.

How to build a permanent light sail

According to the researchers, the powerful laser pulses can create pressure strong enough to arch and tear the plate like the sail of a taut boat, which could explode if hit by a giant windstorm.

They believe lights should have the ability to “bulge” and form a somewhat curved shape like a canopy. Bargatin explains that the length of the sail and the radius of curvature should be about 3 metres. In their new papers, the authors outline geometric measurements that ensure optimal distension.

Even a light sail protected from tears will encounter other obstacles. To overcome such problems, the main parameter to consider is the sailing material. The panels must be strong for durability and lightweight to reduce laser power and reflect light efficiently for optimal thrust and shed heat generated by the laser pulses.

Bargatin says that if the last part is not taken care of, it can literally sail fusion in the space.

“You can come up with a range of materials. The thickness of that material and the curvilinear geometry will allow the sail to overcome the pressures we are currently designing for,” Bargatin said, noting that his team is mostly looking for a material called molybdenum disulfide.

In the grand scheme of things, though, building a massive laser array that would send a beam of light forward would be a major hurdle. Researchers working in space communications are also still figuring out how to retrieve information from a microchip probe attached to the optical sail, Bargatin says.


Starshot’s proposed microchip probe.

Darius Faray/CNET

If the Breakthrough Starshot mechanism works one day, it will be a true testament to humanity’s brilliance in science. In announcing the organization’s formidable goals six years ago, Hawking’s Monument:

“I think what makes us unique is going beyond our limits. Gravity stuck us to the ground, but I just flew to America. I lost my voice, but I can still talk, thanks to my voice synthesis device. How do we get past these limits?”

With our minds and our machines.

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