They were taking an alternative views on China and where things are now and where they might be but used the article as a reference.
Why not use the lunar materials, then, to create what Friedlander calls a ‘gigantic solar sail loom,’ one that would stretch reinforcement wires in loom fashion over a framework that could reach 10 by 10 kilometers in size. The idea for this space shipyard is to create vast solar sails, spreading a volatile material on the framework, vaporizing thin amounts of aluminum onto it, then removing the volatile and support structure to create an ultra-thin, 100-square kilometer sail.
I’m especially pleased that he points to Al Globus’ idea of an asteroid-retrieval project called AsterAnts. Globus and colleagues Bryan Biegel and Steve Traugott (all working with MRJ Technology Solutions at NASA Ames) came up with the notion back in the late 1990s, presenting it as a NASA technical report and developing its ideas in a presentation at Space Frontier Conference 8. The notion is to retrieve small (1/2 to 1-meter) Near Earth Objects for orbital processing, and to do all this with solar sails that could be constructed and tested near the International Space Station.
Globus and team make the point that these small NEOs have a mass roughly equal to recent spacecraft (the paper cites Deep Space 1 and NEAR), some 500 kg, and thus should be manipulable with propulsion systems like solar electric.
The reference is to Jerome Wright’s Space Sailing (1992). Friedlander, meanwhile, extends the AsterAnts idea to the kind of lightweight sails Drexler writes about, going after 1000-ton asteroids with an infrastructure encompassing entire fleets of sails, one that would begin to produce a billion tons a year of returned materials in high-orbit. In such a scenario, solar sails obviously reach a high level of development, enabling interplanetary travels that help us create the kind of system-wide infrastructure that may one day lead to interstellar missions. If you want to think big, check out Friedlander, who concludes with a discussion of a sail the size of Mercury.
Globus notes that solar sails could increase the number of geosychronous satellite orbital slots by a factor of three.
A solar-sail ‘statite’ of sufficient size could ‘hover,’ tilted so that light pressure is equal and opposite to the pull of gravity, thus increasing the number of direct broadcast slots dramatically. All of this is by way of making the case that space can pay off in multiple directions. Developing the needed sail technologies to make some of these things happen points not only to a supply of interesting materials from captured asteroids but also to economic benefits that are closer at hand. It also points to a space future in which sails take us into the Kuiper Belt and beyond.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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