[Sticky] Are light sails the near future for space travel?  

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A light sail is a large array of reflective material which is deployed in space with the purpose of propulsion.

As photons of light hit the sail (either from the sun, or a much more focused source such as a laser or maser) they bounce off exerting an impulse on the light sail propelling it forward. It's obvious that a single photon would have a negligible effect on the sail, but billions would hit the sail in tiny spaces of time allowing for theoretically crazy speeds.

Estimates using current technology predict possible speeds of 0.1c - 0.5c depending on load, which is incredible. It must be noted that light sails have been tested, and do work, however not yet at speeds speculated above.

The project "Breakthrough Starshot" proposes a mission to the Alpha Centauri by using a thousand little nanocraft with light sails, and an earth based lasers. This is proposed to happen within the next 20 years!!

The animation below helps to visualize the project: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMkWGN1G6Kg?rel=0&controls=0&showinfo=0]

  

  • Do you think we can do this within the next 20 years as Breakthrough say?
  • Is this the future of space travel or does it lie elsewhere? 

 

More info on Breakthrough Starshot, and light sails in general:

http://earthsky.org/space/breakthrough-starshot-aims-for-alpha-centauri

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2012JBIS...65..255M  

PlanckTime - Amin

 
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