Sail Concepts

A Photon Beam Propulsion Timeline

June 24, 2016

Breakthrough Starshot’s four-meter sails are the latest (and best funded) concept in a long series of beamed propulsion ideas. As Jim Benford explains below, the idea of beaming to a sail goes back over fifty years, with numerous papers and the beginnings of laboratory work in the intervening decades. What follows is the first cut […]

Read the full article →

CubeSats: Deep Space Possibilities

September 15, 2015

The Planetary Society’s LightSail-A, launched on May 20 of this year, demonstrated sail deployment from a CubeSat despite software problems that plagued the mission. You’ll recall that communications were spotty and the upload of a software fix was compromised because of the spacecraft’s continued tumbling. After a series of glitches, the craft’s sail was deployed […]

Read the full article →

Small Interstellar Probes, Riding Laser Beams – The Project Dragonfly Design Competition Workshop

July 17, 2015

Today we look beyond Pluto/Charon toward possible ways of getting a payload to another star. Centauri Dreams readers are familiar with the pioneering work of Robert Forward in developing concepts for large-scale laser-beamed missions to Alpha Centauri and other destinations. But what if we go smaller, much smaller? Project Dragonfly, in progress at the Initiative […]

Read the full article →

Thoughts on DE-STAR and Laser Sailing

July 2, 2015

Last week we looked at DE-STAR (Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration), an ambitious program for developing modular phased arrays of kilowatt class lasers. The work of Philip Lubin (UC-Santa Barbara), DE-STAR is envisioned as a way to scale up a space-based system for asteroid mitigation. And in a new NIAC grant, Lubin […]

Read the full article →

Beaming ‘Wafer’ Probes to the Stars

June 25, 2015

The last interstellar concept I can recall with a 20-year timeline to reach Alpha Centauri was Robert Forward’s ‘Starwisp,’ an elegant though ultimately flawed idea. Proposed in 1985, Starwisp would take advantage of a high-power microwave beam that would push its 1000-meter fine carbon mesh to high velocities. As evanescent as a spider web, the […]

Read the full article →

Sail in View

June 10, 2015

The main post for today will be online around 1230 EDT (1630 UTC), but first I have to publish this image from LightSail, along with Jason Davis’ description. Nice work! “The Planetary Society’s LightSail test mission successfully completed its primary objective of deploying a solar sail in low-Earth orbit, mission managers said today [June 9]. […]

Read the full article →

LightSail Deployment Apparently Successful

June 8, 2015

After a nerve-wracking week in which contact was repeatedly lost and then regained, The Planetary Society’s LightSail has successfully charged its batteries and deployed its solar sail. Deployment began at 1947 UTC (1547 EDT) June 7, just off the coast of Baja California, with telemetry showing climbing motor counts and power levels consistent with ground […]

Read the full article →

LightSail Reboots: Sail Deployment Soon

June 1, 2015

It was a worrisome eight days, but LightSail has broken its silence with an evident reboot and return to operations, sending telemetry to ground stations and taking test images. We now have sail deployment possibly as early as Tuesday morning EDT (15:44 UTC), but according to The Planetary Society’s Jason Davis, much will depend on […]

Read the full article →

LightSail Glitch: Hoping for a Reboot

May 27, 2015

The Planetary Society’s LightSail won’t stay in orbit long once its sail deploys, a victim of inexorable atmospheric drag. But we’re all lucky that in un-deployed form — as a CubeSat — LightSail can maintain its orbit for about six months. Some of that extended period may be necessary given the problem the spacecraft has […]

Read the full article →

LightSail Aloft!

May 21, 2015

One of the joys of science fiction is the ability to enter into conjectured worlds at will, tweaking parameters here and there to see what happens. I remember talking a few years ago to Jay Lake, a fine writer especially of short stories who died far too young in 2014. Jay commented that while it […]

Read the full article →