Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Over 0.1% of Light Speed

Understanding the beginnings of the Universe and life itself is NASA’s long term vision and one of humanities’ grand challenges. Missions to the edge of our solar system and to space between stars in our galaxy – the interstellar medium – are of a great promise to shed light on these questions. However, today’s deep space exploration is hindered by fundamental limitations of current propulsion technology, resulting in missions that take decades of development, years of flight and cost billions.

Above – Image depicting the Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration concept. Credits: Artur Davoyan

Extreme metamaterial solar sails as proposed here have the potential to shift the paradigm of space exploration enabling numerous low cost and high-speed missions to be launched anytime and anywhere. Such sails could gain accelerations over 60AU/yr (about 0.1% of light speed) when coupled to low mass spacecraft and dive to extreme proximity to the sun (just 2-5 solar radii). This velocity is 20 times more than Voyager 1.

This NIAC challenges the limits of materials, paving the way for the development of high endurance ultrathin film architectures that can handle extreme environments manifested by solar radiation and plasma in addition to providing spacecraft control.

The technology will enable reaching Jupiter in 5 months, Neptune in 10, surpassing Voyager 1 in 2.5 years and getting to the solar gravity lens location in just 8.5 years.

Davoyan’s vision is to use nanotechnology to build spaceprobes that can reach Mars in a matter of days and reach distant interstellar places no one has gone before. It took Voyager nearly 40 years to reach the boundaries of our solar system, and it will take it another 50,000 years to arrive to the nearest star. Davoyan hopes to build a spacecraft that can travel at thousands of kilometers per second.

His team is using principles of nanophotonic design to develop new ultralightweight systems for space solar power harvesting and efficient regulation of spacecraft temperature via thermal radiation emission.

Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com