January 31, 2005

Next Month, Mars

Well, helloooo sailor! Sign me up and pack the picnic basket. Solar super-sail could reach Mars in a month - Technology

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A LICK of paint could help a spacecraft powered by a solar sail get from Earth to Mars in just one month, seven times faster than the craft that took the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to the Red Planet.

Gregory Benford of the University of California, Irvine, and his brother James, who runs aerospace research firm Microwave Sciences in Lafayette, California, envisage beaming microwave energy up from Earth to boil off volatile molecules from a specially formulated paint applied to the sail. The recoil of the molecules as they streamed off the sail would give it a significant kick that would help the craft on its way. "It's a different way of thinking about propulsion," Gregory Benford says. "We leave the engine on the ground."

Posted by Vanderleun at January 31, 2005 10:23 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

"We leave the engine on the ground."

Wrong. You leave the power source on the ground. The engine, which is literally the paint in this instance, is still on the craft. But having the power-plant on Earth makes all the difference.

Posted by: Final Historian at January 31, 2005 11:54 AM

Sounds okay, provided they figure how to make the paint, and that it's a one-way trip.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at January 31, 2005 5:11 PM

If I can choose the crew, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at January 31, 2005 5:24 PM

This is a variation on an idea of Freeman Dyson's, about personal spacecraft. He illustrated it by a drawing of a Volkswagen sitting on a tank of water, which would be heated by laser beams from the ground, producing steam. This would be to escape earth's gravity, after which you could use very small rockets for manuvering.

Posted by: Yehudit at February 1, 2005 6:02 AM

Also, Niven's launching lasers. (Although I can't remember whether those were visible light or microwave.)

Posted by: jaed at February 1, 2005 1:04 PM

"You leave the power source on the ground."

No. The power source is the bonds holding the paint molecules together. The microwaves just provide the activation energy to start the reaction (ie, break the bonds). If you're going to get unnecessarily semantic, you should at least be right.

Posted by: what? at July 20, 2008 8:15 PM