Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sailing on Sunlight

"Planetary Society Resurrects Plan to Launch Solar Sail"
Space. com (November 10, 2009)

"The quest to fly the first solar sail spacecraft is back on, with scientists once again hoping they can harness the energy of light to power a ship through space despite earlier failures.

The Planetary Society recently announced plans to build a solar sail craft by the end of 2010, thanks to a $1 million anonymous donation made to the Pasadena, Calif.-based organization to reignite the project.

" 'This was an enabling donation, there's no doubt,' said Bruce Betts, Planetary Society director of projects. 'We've been continuing to think and do studies, but we didn't have the funding in place to embark on this project. Now we do.'

"The Planetary Society aims to launch a spacecraft called LightSail-1 to an orbit of about 500 miles (800 km) above Earth to demonstrate that energy from sunlight alone can propel a ship through space. The push of photons against the spacecraft's mirror-bright sails should provide enough energy to keep the craft's orbit from decaying, scientists think...."

The idea of using sunlight to push sailing ships across the Solar system has been around for decades. Mathematical models say it should work: but the idea has never been given a full-scale test.

Looks like that may change, soon.

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