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In 2011, a NASA team embarked on the development of a Technology Demonstration Mission known as the Solar Sail Demonstrator which intended to prove the viability and value of using a huge, ultra-thin sail unfurling in space and using the pressure of sunlight itself to provide propellant-free transport, hovering and exploration capabilities.
Led by industry manufacturer L'Garde Inc. of Tustin, California, and including participation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Solar Sail Demonstrator project was built upon successful ground-deployment experiments led by L'Garde in 2005-2006 at the Plum Brook Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, a research laboratory managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. It also leveraged the successful deployment of the NanoSail-D sail, a 100-square-foot test article NASA launched to Earth orbit in 2011 to validate sail deployment techniques.
If NASA were to launch an interstellar probe powered by solar sails, it would take only eight years for it to catch the Voyager 1 spacecraft (the most distant spacecraft from Earth), which has been traveling for more than 20 years. By adding a laser or magnetic beam transmitter, NASA said it could push speeds to 18,600 mi/sec (30,000 km/sec), which is one-tenth the speed of light. At those speeds, interstellar travel would be an almost certainty.
Solar sails have long been considered to be a cost-effective way of exploring the Solar System. In addition to being relatively easy and cheap to manufacture, there’s the added bonus of solar sails requiring no fuel. Rather than using rockets that require propellant, the sail uses the radiation pressure from stars to push large ultra-thin mirrors to high speeds.
According to a 2000 study produced by Robert Frisbee, a director of advanced propulsion concept studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a laser sail could be accelerated to half the speed of light in less than a decade. He also calculated that a sail measuring about 320 km (200 miles) in diameter could reach Proxima Centauri in just over 12 years. Meanwhile, a sail measuring about 965 km (600 miles) in diameter would arrive in just under 9 years.
The mechanisms governing solar sails are discussed. Theoretical calculations are shown demonstrating how radiation pressure is used to levitate objects on Earth. This idea is extended to space, where solar sails harness the force due to radiation pressure to accelerate objects to speeds greater than Earth’s escape velocity. Resonating cavities as they relate to solar sails are discussed as proposed by Meyer et al., along with a short discussion of IKAROS, the ﬁrst solar sail propelled spacecraft.
Think about it. Slowing from interstellar speeds to interplanetary speed takes the same amount of energy it takes to go from interplanetary speeds to interstellar speeds.
Slowing down i is really not a problem.