Spaceships pushed by LIGHT – the future of space travel? | Summary and Q&A

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January 19, 2016
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Spaceships pushed by LIGHT – the future of space travel?

TL;DR

Solar sails utilize the transfer of momentum from photons to propel spacecraft through space.

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Key Insights

  • ⛵ Solar sails utilize the force of sunlight and the transfer of momentum from photons to propel spacecraft.
  • 👻 Reflective solar sails are more effective as they allow photons to bounce off, increasing speed.
  • 🙂 Japan's IKAROS light sail uses liquid crystals to change reflectivity and steer the spacecraft.
  • 😘 Solar sails are a low-cost and long-lasting technology, making space exploration more accessible.
  • 🙂 Optical tweezers, using the pressure of light, are used to trap and study biological cells, DNA molecules, and atoms.
  • ⛵ Solar sails and solar cells are distinct technologies, with solar sails being more efficient in converting energy into motion.
  • 🗾 Solar sails have been successfully tested with NASA's NanoSail-D and Japan's IKAROS spacecraft.

Transcript

DIANNA COWERN: This episode is brought to you by Squarespace. Squarespace, build it beautiful. Imagine a spacecraft with a huge, shiny sail attached, like a kite, accelerating through space. But there's no wind in space. This sail ship is pushed by sunlight. Think about it. Photons, or particles of light, have no mass, and yet they can push you. Th... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How do solar sails work in space?

Solar sails work by utilizing the force of sunlight, as photons have no mass but can transfer momentum to propel spacecraft.

Q: How are reflective solar sails more effective?

Reflective solar sails allow photons to bounce off, transferring momentum and increasing the speed of the spacecraft.

Q: How does Japan's IKAROS light sail steer in space?

The IKAROS light sail uses liquid crystals to change reflectivity, allowing for one side to be pushed more than the other, resulting in steering capabilities.

Q: How efficient are solar sails compared to solar cells?

Solar sails can convert around 90% of the absorbed energy into motion, while current photovoltaic technology can only convert about 40% of the absorbed energy into electricity.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Solar sails are propelled by the force of sunlight, as photons have no mass but can push objects.

  • Reflective solar sails work better as photons bounce off and transfer momentum, allowing for increased speed.

  • Japan's IKAROS light sail uses liquid crystals to change reflectivity and steer the spacecraft.

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