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In the past decade, thousands of planets have been discovered beyond our solar system. This has had the effect of renewing interest in space exploration, which includes the possibility of sending spacecraft to explore exoplanets. Given the challenges involved, a number of advanced concepts are currently being explored, like the time-honored concept of a light sail (as exemplified by Breakthrough Starshot and similar proposals).
However, in more recent years, scientists have proposed a potentially more effective concept known as the electric sail composed of wire mesh that generates electrical charges to deflect solar wind particles, thus generating momentum. In a recent study, two Harvard scientists compared and contrasted these methods to determine which would be more advantageous for different types of missions.
Study - Online - Publication - Acta - Astronautica
The study, which recently appeared online and is being reviewed for publication by Acta Astronautica, was conducted by Manasavi Lingam and Abraham Loeb—an assistant professor at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) and the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University and the Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC), respectively.
The concept of a light sail is old, involving a spacecraft equipped with a large sheet of reflective material that uses the radiation pressure of a star (stellar wind) to accelerate over time. A major advantage of this technology is that it does not require a spacecraft to transport its own fuel supply, which typically accounts for the majority of a spacecraft's mass.
Travel - Amount - Reaction - Mass - Fraction
This is especially important when it comes to interstellar travel, since the amount of reaction mass needed to reach even a fraction of the speed of light (c) would be tremendous. And unlike concepts such as antimatter propulsion or concepts that rely on physics that are still untested (or even hypothetical), solar/light sails use technology and physics that are entirely proven at this...
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