Sail Concepts

Remembering the Sail Mission to Halley’s Comet

May 5, 2017

Some years back I had the pleasure of asking Lou Friedman about the solar sail he, Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan championed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1970s. NASA had hopes of reaching Halley’s Comet with a rendezvous mission in 1986. Halley’s closest approach that year would be 0.42 AU, but the comet […]

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Proxima Mission: Fine-Tuning the Photogravitational Assist

April 17, 2017

Deceleration has always been problematic in projected schemes for interstellar travel. A flyby of a star at a substantial percentage of lightspeed yields a fraction of the data that would be obtainable by a probe slowed into orbit in the target system. But how to slow down? In particular, how do you slow down when […]

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JAXA Sail to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids

March 15, 2017

I like the way Jun Matsumoto approaches his work. A researcher with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Matsumoto is deeply involved in the design of the space sail that will pick up where Japan’s IKAROS left off. Launched in 2010, the latter was a square sail 14 meters to the side that demonstrated the feasibility […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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]. […]

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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 […]

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