Journey by Starlight: The Story of the Solar Sail

  • Paul Gilster

Abstract

The tools of interstellar flight are, one by one, being defined. They are hardly ready to fly over such distances, but even in the case of propulsion, the most intractable problem of all, solutions are being suggested and ideas tested out in laboratories. If our goal is to build a robotic interstellar probe that can deliver a payload to the nearest star and return data from it, then the evidence of our first fifty years of space exploration is that a 4.3-light-year journey is no longer out of the question. The solar sail technology that will probably be our first interstellar propulsion system is one of breathtaking elegance. It will take us to the stars on a beam of light.

Keywords

Areal Density Science Fiction Solar Sail Microwave Beam Great Comet 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. p. 96
    “a space voyage of some forty years.”—Smith’s “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul” first appeared in the April 1960 issue of Galaxy. Google Scholar
  2. p. 96
    “finally fluttered out among the stars.”— Smith’s fiction has always been hard to gather in one place, but it is now available in The Re-Discovery of Man: The Complete Short Fiction of Cordwainer Smith (Framingham, Mass.: NESFA Press, 1993), 671 pages. The book’s cover shows a three-sail interstellar spacecraft as envisioned by science fiction artist Jack Gaughan.Google Scholar
  3. p. 97
    “religious themes and allegories into much of his fiction.”—Linebarger left an equally impressive list of nonfiction works, including the privately printed Gospel of Sun Chung Shan (Paris, 1932), The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat Sen: An Exposition of the San Min Chu (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1937), The China of Chiang K’ai-shek: A Political Study (Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1941), and Psychological Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Infantry Journal Press, 1948). Under the name Carmichael Smith, he wrote a highly regarded suspense novel called Atomsk (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1949).Google Scholar
  4. p. 97
    “speeds high enough to reach the nearest stars.”—A key study in this period was Forward’s “Roundtrip Interstellar Travel Using Laser-Pushed Lightsails,” Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets 21 (1984), pp. 187–95, but as we’ll see, Forward’s work was in constant transition as he injected new ideas into the mix.Google Scholar
  5. p.99:
    “confused its navigation sensors.”—Donna Shirley, later manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars exploration program, saw Mariner 10 from the inside as a mission analyst. She tells its story in her book Managing Martians (New York: Broadway Books, 1998).Google Scholar
  6. p. 99
    “judicious tilting of the spacecraft solar panels.”—“Mariner Venus/Mercury 1973 Status Bulletin #21,” March 15,1974, Mariner Venus/Mercury 1973 Project Office.Google Scholar
  7. p.101
    “dependent upon scientific theory and calculations.”— Roger Bozzetto discusses the Somnium as the first known example of hard science fiction in “Kepler’s Somnium, or, Science Fiction’s Missing Link,” in Science Fiction Studies #52, vol. 17, part 3 (November 199o).Google Scholar
  8. p.101
    “an appendix stuffed with astronomical calculations.”—The standard edition is Edward Rosen’s Kepler’s Somnium (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  9. p. 10
    : “you Galileo, for Jupiter.” —As quoted in Wyn Wachhorst, The Dream of Spaceflight (New York: Basic Books, z000), p. 6. Also see Arthur Koestler, The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1960), p. 195.Google Scholar
  10. p. 10
    : “Les mondes stellaires (Stellar Worlds)”—Frederick Ordway III writes charmingly about Aventures and other early French science fiction works in his “Visions of the Moon: A Collector’s Tale,” which appeared in the November-December zoos issue of Ad Astra. Google Scholar
  11. p. 10
    : “Kepler’s thesis about the displacement of comet’s tails.” —A good discussion of Lebedev’s work is by Vassilis Lembessis, “P. N. Lebedev and Light Radiation Pressure,” in Europhysics News, vol. 32, no. 1, 2001.Google Scholar
  12. p.104
    “as it rushed past the sun.” —Freeman Dyson, who draws frequently from Bernal in books like Disturbing the Universe (1979) and Infinite in All Directions (1988), wrote a wonderful essay exploring Bernal’s contributions that was originally presented as a lecture in Bernal’s honor at Birkbeck College, London. The printed version can now be found as an appendix in Carl Sagan, ed., Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,1975).Google Scholar
  13. p.104
    “designed to seed ideas among future authors.”—Carl Wiley, “Clipper Ships of Space,” Astounding Science Fiction, May 1951, pp. 135ff.Google Scholar
  14. p.105
    “the beginning of modern work on the sail concept.”— Richard Garwin, “Solar Sailing: A Practical Method of Propulsion within the Solar System,” Jet Propulsion z8 (March 1958): 188–9o.Google Scholar
  15. p.105
    “one of the core articles in the field of interstellar studies.”—“Solar Sail Starships: The Clipper Ships of the Galaxy” appeared in Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 34 (1981), pp. 371–80.Google Scholar
  16. p.107
    “pushed by the pressure of light beams.” —Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes (New York: Random House, 2000).Google Scholar
  17. p.108
    “the DLR German Aerospace Centre in Cologne.”—“Solar Sails for Space Exploration—The Development and Demonstration of Critical Technologies in Partnership,” ESA Bulletin 98 (June 1999).Google Scholar
  18. p.110
    “the difficulties of deploying the latter.” —Wright Friedman et al., “Solar Sailing: The Concept Made Realistic,” American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Aerospace Sciences Meeting, Huntsville, Ala., Jan. 16–18, 1978. AIAA paper 78–82.Google Scholar
  19. p.110
    “that would have been unrolled individually.”—The heliogyro concept evolved from work by Richard MacNeal at the Astro Research Corporation and John Hedgepath in the mid-196os.Google Scholar
  20. p. 11
    : “not ready for that rendezvous,”—See Friedman’s Starsailing: Solar Sails and Interstellar Travel for an overview of this project (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1988).Google Scholar
  21. p.111
    “a promising one.”— Interview with Humphrey Price at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, January 31, 2003.Google Scholar
  22. p.112
    “we have to be circumspect.”—Telephone interview with Moktar Salama, April 4, 2003.Google Scholar
  23. p. 11
    : “missions outside the solar system.”—Salama’s recent laboratory work is discussed in his article “Ground Demonstration of a Spinning Solar Sail Deployment Concept,” Journal of Spacecraft d Rockets 40, no. 1 (January 2oo3): 9–14.Google Scholar
  24. p.114
    “NASA flight validation mission.”— See David M. Murphy and Paul A. Gierow, “Scalable Solar Sail Subsystem Design Considerations,” presented at the 43rd Structures, Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference in Denver, Colo. in April 2002. Available online at http: //www. aec-able. com/corpinfo/Resources/zooz-17o3-Murphy.pdf.Google Scholar
  25. p.115
    “a 1945 article in the magazine Wireless World.” —“Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-Wide Radio Coverage?” Wireless World, October 1945.Google Scholar
  26. p.11
    : “satellite television and communications platforms.”—A true geostationary orbit puts the satellite directly over the equator, allowing it to remain stationary with respect to the ground observer, which is why these satellites are so useful for telecommunications and weather purposes.Google Scholar
  27. p.115
    “while the Earth spins around underneath it.”—Robert Forward, Indistinguishable from Magic (New York: Baen Books, 1995), 90.Google Scholar
  28. p.117
    “impart thrust to a sail.”—Benford’s paper on the experiment is “Microwave Beam-Driven Propulsion Experiments for High-Speed Space Exploration,” presented at the EuroEM 2000 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Myrabo’s paper is “Experimental Investigation of Laser-Pushed Light Sails in a Vacuum,” presented in 2000 at the Advanced Propulsion Conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.Google Scholar
  29. p.117
    “candidates for spaceflight”—“Sail Technology Beamed to Future Space Exploration,” press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Media Relations Office, July 5, 2000.Google Scholar
  30. p.117
    “I call my stories `proposals.”’—Phone conversation with James Benford, February 19, 2003.Google Scholar
  31. p.11
    : “2,00o degrees Celsius in practical materials.”—Ibid.Google Scholar
  32. p.118
    “in a paper detailing the experiment.”—James Benford, “Flight and Spin of Microwave-Driven Sails: First Experiments,” Proceedings Pulsed Power Plasma Science 2001, IEEE o1CH37251, p. 548.Google Scholar
  33. p.119
    “1,331 years.”—Gregory Matloff, “The Perforated Solar Sail: Its Application to Interstellar Travel,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 56 (2003): 255–61.Google Scholar
  34. p.119
    “they’ll take time to solve.” —Interview with Les Johnson at Marshall Space Flight Center, July 3o, 2003.Google Scholar
  35. p.120
    “The flies can come through but you can’t.”—Benford phone conversation, February 19, 2003.Google Scholar
  36. p.120
    “assisted by other mechanical means.”—Gregory Benford et al., “Sail Deployment by Microwave Beam Experiments and Simulations,” available online at http://www.physics.uci.edu/faculty/Sail_Dev_By_Mic_Beam.html. p.120: “a pack of cigarettes.”—Greg Clark, “Breakthrough in Solar Sail Technology,” space.com, March 2, 2000.Google Scholar
  37. p.121
    “(some 30 million kilometers… well inside the orbit of Mercury).”—Charles E. Garner et al., “Lightweight Solar Sail for a Spacecraft Flying Near the Sun,” NASA Tech Brief vol. 26, no. 10, from JPL Technology Report NPO-20854.Google Scholar
  38. p.121
    “loo to 200 kilometers per second.”—Price interview, January 31, 2003.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Gilster

There are no affiliations available

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