Developing 0.01% Lightspeed Solar Sail Slingshot

A NASA NIAC phase 2 is developing Titanium Nitride solar sails that would be able to perform an extremely close flyby of the sun to achieve speeds of 60 AU per year. This would be over 15 times faster than the Voyager (3.6 AU per year) spacecraft.

They need to make metamaterial layers to achieve reflectivity. They have made the layers in the lab with over 70% reflection of light for less than 0.7 grams per square meter.

In phase 2, they will fabricate and test the material. They will explore how to scale fabrication. They will refine the solar sail design and explore making the boom lighter.

The goal is sub-$100 million missions that could be sent out of the solar system 30 times farther than Pluto with less than 20 year travel time.

3 thoughts on “Developing 0.01% Lightspeed Solar Sail Slingshot”

  1. A simplistic equation of how solar intensity drops off with distance indicates that the total kinetic energy you can get from such a solar sail is proportional to the square root of the stars output.

    And the velocity you'd thus obtain is proportional to the square root of the kinetic energy.

    Hence, should anyone be in orbit around say Eta Carina, which is 4.7 million times as bright as sol, they could take the 0.01% C design and send it out at approximately 0.5 % C. About 50 times the speed.

    Hmmm…. that's not that much faster. A lot less than I expected.

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  2. 60 AU per year means solar gravity lens telescope missions in 10 years.

    And we'll need to launch a bunch of them, once the new crop of exoplanet imaging telescopes start coming to life (Earth-bound or not), and the first legit Earth equivalent exoplanets start appearing.

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