Extracting Energy from Solar Winds Via Plasma Magnetic Sail to Get Near Lightspeed

How do we extract energy from space around a spacecraft? If there are differences in the speed of the solar wind or differences in flows of particles around a spacecraft or where a spacecraft is passing then highly efficient extraction of power can enable great capabilities.

On earth, we had sailing ships millennia before turbines were created for powered ships. Albatrosses are able to use differences in wind speed to get to speeds over 100 mph. It is called dynamic soaring. Drones have been created that reach over 500 mph leveraging large wind shear and dynamic soaring.

I covered this earlier this month about using the known structure and features of the solar system to access solar wind differences. Around the equator of the sun solar wind is 400 miles per second but out of the poles it is 700 miles per second. Dynamic soaring enables speeds ten times or more than the wind speed. You dive in and out of the differences in wind speed.

Accessing the solar wind efficiently is difficult. The solar wind particles are ten thousand times less energy than the photon – sunlight energy. A physical sail would not work. You have to make a magnetic field as a sail. You also need to go beyond that and have the magnet create a magnetic field and capture electrons and circulate those around the spacecraft for an even larger magnetic field.

Finding two different media with particles at rest.

You have created a magnetic field in space and then created a plasma magnet and then used dynamic soaring to get to 2% of lightspeed.

The next step is to create a magnetic propeller out of the plasma magnet and take about two years to go from 2% to 10-20% of lightspeed.

The magnetic propeller could also involve Q drive. At 5% of light speed the particles have more energy than nuclear fusion. The Q drive proposes efficiently extracting energy from the passing particles when you are at high speed and concentrating it into reaction mass that you carry. Fire the reaction mass out the back to bootstrap to even higher speeds.

A Reaction Drive – Powered by External Dynamic Pressure

A new class of reaction drive is discussed, in which reaction mass is expelled from a vehicle using power extracted from the relative motion of the vehicle and the surrounding medium, such as the solar wind. The physics of this type of drive are reviewed and shown to permit high velocity changes with modest mass ratio while conserving energy and momentum according to well-established physical principles. A comparison to past propulsion methods and propulsion classification studies suggests new mission possibilities for this type of drive. An example of how this principle might be embodied in hardware suggests accelerations sufficient for outer solar system missions, with shorter trip times and lower mass ratios than chemical rockets.

Dynamic Soaring plasma magnet drives get to the first stage 2% of lightspeed to enable the second stage Q-drive.

Look at the sources of energy and the density of the energy and the total flux of the energy.

Slowing down at the target solar system is using the solar winds and other fields of the target system.

Plasma Magnet

Dr. John Slough of the University of Washington. The project dubded Plasma Magnet (better to be called Plasma Magnetic Sail) has been created and validated in the laboratory under NIAC phase I and phase II funding.

This is different than the M2P2 which would fill a static dipole EMF with plasma and use it as a drag device in the solar wind.

Plasma Magnetic Sail operates like a single phase capacitor induction motor, with two coils, sequentially energizing themselves to create a rotating magnetic field (RMF). The speed of the RMF at one AU is ~3 hertz (just below the cyclotron resonant frequency of the hydrogen electrons of the solar wind.) The RMF captures and drags the electrons around in the field, where the protons are too heavy to be caught up in the same. Polyphase coils of 10 meters radius and powered by a mere 1 kilowatt can created an electron populated RMF of 10s. or 100s of kilometers in diameter. The sail expands in size as it moves away from the Sun and unlike the solar sail maintains constrant acceleration.

Phased antennas operating in the radio frequency range produce a rapidly rotating magnetic field. This field preferentially accelerates electrons within a plasma to produce a direct current that can generate a steady state magnetic field that is much larger than can be sustained by practical electromagnets.

8 thoughts on “Extracting Energy from Solar Winds Via Plasma Magnetic Sail to Get Near Lightspeed”

  1. An idea, which may be silly, but some of the analogies for the Magsail are treating the solar wind (plasma) like wind that you catch with a sail like on the ocean. So “if” this interaction with the solar wind is easy to do, then maybe other interactions are possible.

    Let’s use a ramjet as another analogy. The magsail collects the solar wind, compresses it using onboard energy, (solar cells?), then accelerates and expels the solar wind in the same direction it is going by some percentage of the energy injected. Just like heat added to a ramjet expels hot air. This would be speeded up plasma. This would in effect propel the Magsailjet, (my hastily minted name for this), into the Sun. So you could maneuver in or out of the solar system. Now I have no idea the efficiency of this and the effect could be so small as to be insignificant. We really don’t know how well the magsail couples to the plasma, but if this coupling is very high then this may be possible.

    • I want to add another idea to the Magsailjet. Where to get the power. I have thought about power in space and nuclear seems to be very advantageous as many have noted. But the “structure” of nuclear plants seems to be a problem. The weight is likely to be very high. So how can we make this less. I think an accelerator driven subcritical reactor would be ideal for this. Since long radio tower type structures could be built very light, think Tensegrity structure, and since it can be made so long the accelerator could use a lot of very small pushes to accelerate over a very long length getting high power with less stress. And of course vacuum is free in this case.



    • Happened to run across this link and paper on HIIPER (Helicon Injected Inertial Plasma Electrostatic Rocket). WOW very cool.


      You could kick up the Sun’s plasma energies with the Helicon, then eject it at high speeds with the Inertial Plasma Electrostatic Rocket. I’ve heard of wind power generators that ionize air, then as it is pushed past the device it makes power.


      You would think you could do the same with solar wind plasma. Then the power produced could be used in the above, Inertial Plasma Electrostatic Rocket to push the craft towards the Sun.

      The question is could it be used to go with the Sun’s solar wind and/or against???? I could see it being used until it got to or close to the Sun solar wind velocity, giving you extra thrust to get up to speed, then power tapering off. But if you could go over the velocity of the solar wind, would it still create power by running into the wind? Tricky. Sounds a bit like perpetual motion. Run into the wind and then make power with the fact that it’s running into the wind and use that to run an electrostatic rocket. Likely not.

    • I’ve gone on a bit about this, but when I heard about the magsail here, it really lit my neurons. This is the equivalent of the sailing ship for earth transportation, but for space transportation. I would think that this would be a number one priority for NASA or anyone else interested in space travel.

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  3. I’m still not convinced that a modest sized device can adequately couple to so large a plasma bubble. At rest, relative to the surrounding medium, sure. But I suspect in the solar wind you’d just be blowing bubbles that would be blown away.

    That can be tested fairly easily with a modest sized experiment outside the Earth’s magnetosphere.

  4. This might work, but only for very light payloads such as automated probes and the like. I don’t think it will work for manned space craft. But since automated craft get better and better all the time, this is the ideal propulsion technology for automated exploration of the solar system.

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