Sail Concepts

Looking Ahead to LightSail

February 3, 2015

The news that The Planetary Society is readying the first of its Lightsail spacecraft for a May launch stirs memories of Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger) and mainframe computers. Smith wrote his haunting science fiction in the days when computers filled entire rooms, and the pilot who flies a solar sail thousands of kilometers wide in […]

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Giovanni Vulpetti: Clarifying Magsail Concepts

January 22, 2015

Over the years we’ve looked at magnetic sail (magsail) concepts of various kinds and discussed whether a spacecraft could do such things as ‘riding’ the solar wind to high velocities, or use a stellar wind to brake against as it entered a destination solar system. But just how workable is the magsail? In a 2007 […]

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Hybrid Strategies for Deep Space

November 6, 2014

On Monday I touched on the topic of multi-modal spacecraft, wondering whether future deep space missions might carry twin or even triple systems of propulsion. The example I want to tinker with is an interstellar craft driven by beamed energy, akin to some of Robert Forward’s designs in the 1980s. Forward went through enormous challenges […]

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A Near-Term Sail Niche

November 5, 2014

When Les Johnson spoke to a session on sail technologies at the 100 Year Starship symposium in Houston last September, he startled some in the audience by going through a list of how many solar sail missions are now in the works. The European Space Agency’s Gossamer program accounts for one of these, which is […]

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Sailcraft: Concepts, Design, Lab Work

November 4, 2014

Although we can trace the growth of research into interstellar flight all the way back to the days of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the effort has often operated outside of government channels. Scientists and engineers whose day job might take in aspects of rocketry were hard pressed to find time for studying trips to the stars when […]

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An Updated Look at Space Sailing

November 3, 2014

It was back in 2008 that Copernicus Books published an excellent introduction and reference to space sail technologies. Now the work of Gregory Matloff, Giovanni Vulpetti and Les Johnson, Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel is about to be released in a new edition that I’ve been reviewing for the past month (Note: […]

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100YSS: An Encouraging Future for Sails

September 25, 2014

India can take great pride in the successful insertion of its Mangalyaan Mars probe into orbit around the red planet. At a cost of $75 million, the spacecraft is a bargain — Maven, which entered Mars orbit on Sunday, cost almost ten times as much. In an Associated Press story this morning, I noticed that […]

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Jim Benford: Final Comments on Particle Beam Propulsion

September 8, 2014

Our recent discussion of deep space magsails propelled by neutral particle beams inspired a lot of comments and a round of comment response from author Jim Benford. For those just joining us, Benford had studied a magsail concept developed by Alan Mole and discussed by Dana Andrews, with findings that questioned whether interstellar applications were […]

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Project Dragonfly: The case for small, laser-propelled, distributed probes

September 5, 2014

Andreas Hein is a familiar figure in these pages, having written on the subject of worldships as well as the uploading of consciousness. He is Deputy Director of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), as well as Director of its Technical Research Committee. He founded and leads Icarus Interstellar’s Project Hyperion: A design study on […]

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Thinking about Magnetic Sails

August 28, 2014

Magnetic sails — ‘magsails’ — are a relative newcomer on the interstellar propulsion scene, having been first analyzed by Dana Andrews and Robert Zubrin in 1988. We saw that the particle beam concept advanced by Alan Mole and discussed this week by Jim Benford would use a magsail in which the payload and spacecraft were […]

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