A spacecraft powered by photons from sunlight has been designed by the Planetary Society.
They are also currently building the solar sailor, and hope to launch it at the end of 2010.
The propulsion mechanism for the spacecraft (named LightSail1) is photons striking the structure of the ship, which is a very large aluminized Mylar surface area made up of four triangles forming a giant kite-like body. When photons strike the sail-like surfaces they will transmit momentum to the ship, and propel it. Because the spacecraft is powered by sunlight, it will require no onboard fuel.
Momentum generated by photons, could cause the solar craft to accelerate continuously, eventually up to unprecedented speeds. The Planetary Society website states these speeds could be 5 to 10 times greater than those of chemical rockets. One of the co-founders of the organization indicated that number in the future could be nearly 100,000 mph.
“Eventually you’ll have these missions lasting many years, reaching speeds approaching 100,000 mph, getting out of the solar system in five years instead of 25 years,” said Louis D. Frieman, the Executive Director of the Planetary Society. LightSail1 will carry CubeSat technology, and is intended to orbit at an altitude of about 500 miles. If LightSail1succeeds, there are plans in the works for larger vessels and more ambitious missions.
The US and Russia have scaled back their solar sail projects, but Japan is going ahead with their IKAROS program. Their craft employs thin-film solar power generation and photon propulsion. A launch date has been set for 2010.
The Planetary Society was founded by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray.
Image Credit: PlanetarySociety.org
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