Imagine that instead of being propelled through space by combustion, or phased nuclear detonations, or intermittent bursts of gas, you sail through the emptiness of interstellar space on a sail that catches beams of light? Here’s more from Centauri Dreams:
The take-away from this paper is that thin-film multilayers are a way to produce a viable sail capable of being accelerated by beamed energy at these levels. We already have experience with thin films in areas like the coatings deposited on telescope mirrors, and because the propulsion efficiency is only slightly affected by the angle at which the beam strikes the sail, various forms of curved designs become feasible.
Can a sail survive the rigors of a journey through the gas and dust of the interstellar medium? At 20 percent of c, the question of how gas accumulates in materials needs work, as we’d like to arrive at destination with a sail that may double as a communications tool. Each of these areas, in turn, fragments into needed laboratory work on many levels, which is why a viable effort to design a beamed mission to a star demands a dedicated facility focusing on sail materials and performance. Breakthrough Starshot seems ideally placed to make such a facility happen.
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