Sail Concepts

The Probe and the Particle Beam

April 2, 2014

For those wanting to dig deeper into Alan Mole’s 1 kilogram interstellar colony probe idea, the author has offered to email copies of the JBIS paper — write him at For my part, writing about miniaturized probes with hybrid technologies inevitably calls to mind Freeman Dyson, who in his 1985 title Infinite in All […]

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Solar Probe Plus: Prelude to ‘Sundiver’?

March 20, 2014

‘Sundiver’ maneuvers are surely the most extreme events to which we could subject a solar sail. To my knowledge, it was Gregory Benford who first came up with the term — he mentions in Fantasy & Science Fiction that he passed the coinage on to David Brin when Brin was working on the book that […]

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From Cosmism to the Znamya Experiments

March 19, 2014

What got me thinking about French influences on early solar sail work in Russia yesterday was the realization that science fiction was much stronger in Europe, and particularly France, in the latter part of the 19th Century than we Americans might realize. Hugo Gernsback to the contrary, the genre did not emerge in 1926 with […]

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Solar Sailing Moves into the Journals

March 13, 2014

I’m just getting started with Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s Dreams of Other Worlds (Princeton University Press, 2013), but glancing through it yesterday reminded me how long it has taken sail hardware to get into space. While Ted Cotter and Carl Wiley hoped for early experiments with sail ideas, we never got them until much […]

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A Sail Mission Emerges

March 12, 2014

Carl Wiley, the prescient engineer who offered an early description of solar sails in “Clipper Ships of Space” (Astounding Science Fiction (May, 1951), was not the first to look into sail propulsion, but he was one of the more visible. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s thinking on the matter in the 1920s was not widely circulated, and it […]

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Solar Sails: Remembering Carl Wiley

March 11, 2014

If you’re interested in solar sails and find yourself in California, a stop by UC Riverside’s Tomás Rivera Library should be worth your time. There you will find the Carl A. Wiley collection on solar sails, containing books, manuscripts and various other materials related to sail technologies. Wiley was an aeronautical engineer who wrote the […]

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Electric Sails: Fast Probe to Uranus

January 14, 2014

For years now Pekka Janhunen has been working on his concept of an electric sail with the same intensity that Claudio Maccone has brought to the gravitational focus mission called FOCAL. Both men are engaging advocates of their ideas, and having just had a good conversation with Dr. Maccone (by phone, unfortunately, as I’ve been […]

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The Winds of Deep Space

December 5, 2013

If we can use solar photons to drive a sail, and perhaps use their momentum to stabilize a threatened observatory like Kepler, what about that other great push from the Sun, the solar wind? Unlike the stream of massless photons that exert a minute but cumulative push on a surface like a sail, the solar […]

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Laser Technologies for Starflight

October 22, 2013

How do we go about using photons to accelerate a spacecraft to a substantial percentage of the speed of light? Ten percent of c ought to do — it gets us to Alpha Centauri with a mission time of 43 years and would allow us to at least send flyby probes into that system, with […]

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Laser Travel by Photonic Thruster

October 21, 2013

A recent article in Popular Mechanics about Young K. Bae’s work on laser propulsion is generating some buzz, enough that I went back to look at the 2008 report Bae did for the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Actually there are two reports, a Phase I and a later Phase II (with additional funding) on […]

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