Scientists have found an inexpensive way for space travel: how it will work

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Solar sails in space
The concept of solar sails that can help humanity explore the solar system

Solar wind travel could be the future of human space exploration. The use of this technology will not only reduce the preparation for missions, but will also be much cheaper than current space research methods.

This is stated in an article on the arXiv preprint server written by more than two dozen scientists from the United States and Europe. Among them is Slava Turyshev, an American astrophysicist of Russian descent who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, which launched the Voyager satellites in 1977.

Voyager 2 in 1982 is known to have flown closer to Uranus than any other spacecraft. Now it is about 19.9 billion kilometres from the Earth.

The scientists' article says that space exploration has slowed down in recent years, as funding issues for such missions have hampered it. In addition, the calculation and planning of such journeys take years, and it takes about a decade to plan and build a spacecraft. All of this puts off the incredible new discoveries that humanity can make until the distant future.

As you know, on April 14, 2023, the European Space Agency launched the JUICE mission, which is to explore Jupiter's icy moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. The mission was given the green light back in 2012, and the JUICE probe will reach its goal only in 2031. Thus, it will take 20 years for the probe to start performing its mission.

Now, scientists are calling on the global community to support a new vehicle that will bring humanity closer to the stars faster and cheaper.

Turyshev and his colleagues proposed using miniature satellite units that would travel through space using solar energy. This will create a fast, inexpensive and easy way to travel.

Solar sails use pressure generated by solar radiation rather than fuel to propel them. The effectiveness of this technology has already been proven in a crowdfunding mission in 2019 as part of the Planetary Society's LightSail-2 project.

"Solar sails gain thrust through the use of lightweight materials with a high reflectivity that reflect sunlight to propel the spacecraft while in space," the scientists explained.

Thus, the continuous pressure of solar photons will provide thrust, which in modern probes is created by burning fuel. The problem with fuel is not only that it creates excess weight, but also that its amount in spacecraft is limited, and accordingly, the duration of such space missions is also limited.

While the use of solar energy will avoid both problems.

The pressure of solar photons, according to scientists, will also make spacecraft more manoeuvrable and allow them to hover in one place.

Scientists are convinced that the new technology, which they have named Sundiver, has already reached the level of development when it will be able to provide research in the outer regions of our solar system.

"Fast, cost-effective, and manoeuvrable sailboats that can travel beyond the ecliptic plane (the plane within which the Earth moves around the Sun) open up new opportunities for affordable solar system exploration," the article says.

Scientists argue that the increased manoeuvrability of such vehicles will make it easy to deliver small payloads to multiple destinations and dock with the appropriate modular ships.

The scientists summarise that the current model of space travel, which uses chemical engines operating at the limit of their capabilities, "effectively makes the current paradigm of solar system exploration unviable".

"A new approach is needed," they emphasise.

According to Phys, it is believed that with the support of NASA, this project will be able to launch a whole "fleet of ultra-fast solar sailing probes that will race across the solar system in a few years."

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that Elon Musk's SpaceX showed the first human colony on Mars in a concept video.

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