The Pendleton Panther

Sailing on Sunlight

Posted on: November 19, 2009

The Planetary Society, located in California, has just unveiled their plans for a second attempt at propelling a spacecraft with photons.  The ingenious design, dubbed LightSail-1, uses a large, reflective surface to “sail” on the light waves produced by the sun.  The pressure of the photons on the sail would cause the craft to accelerate almost imperceptibly at first, but the sheer quantity of photons given off by the sun is enough to propel the sail much faster than anything previously put in to space.  Minute orbital adjustments can be accomplished with such technology as well.  The solar sail can be trimmed just as a conventional one.  In addition, the sail’s sensitivity to solar activity would be extremely helpful in predicting solar wind and flares.  If put in Low Earth Orbit, as LightSail-1 is to be stationed, electric companies and satellite owners would have 10 minutes advanced warning of an especially potent flare, and if placed between the Sun and the Earth, as LightSail-3 is planned to be, astronauts could have up to an hour of advanced warning.

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