A type of motivation that appears in science fiction has now proved feasible, bringing the dream of interstellar travel without our energy closer than ever.
If you are a fan of the sci-fi thriller "Space Monster" (English name "Alien: Covenant") directed by Ridley Scott, you will probably know that the Covenant spacecraft takes cities. Crew member to the new planet, testing migratory land for humans.
Covenant uses solar cell technology to make space travel. As early as 1976, the great astronomer Carl Sagan also shared an engine for spacecraft called the Solar sail. Four decades later, the US-based The Planetary Society officially proved this technology to be feasible in practice.
Spending 10 years at a cost of $ 7 million, the non-profit Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft became the first ship to use sunlight as an external propulsion.
Solar-powered devices on Earth that want to create propeller-like forces require surrounding material (air or water), so they are completely useless in space. Using fuel to create a jet of propulsion is still the way to go in spacecraft technology.
'We are excited to announce that the LightSail 2 mission has been successful,' said Bruce Betts, project manager.
"We want to prove that solar sails can be used in CubeSat. We have changed the spacecraft trajectory only by sunlight pressure, which has never been done before" (CubeSat is an international program. helping universities, colleges and private companies put small, amateur satellites into space at low cost.
The LightSail 2 spacecraft has been in orbit for more than a month, opening its sail for the first time last week. For more than 8 days, the ship increased its trajectory to 1.7 km, using thrust from the Sun's photons.
After Japan's IKAROS solar sail project launched in 2010, LightSail 2 is the second successful effort in deploying space-based repulsion technology. However, unlike IKAROS, LightSail 2 can use its sail to truly change its trajectory.
According to Project Manager Dave Spencer, LightSail 2 is being controlled automatically by on-board algorithms. Every 50 minutes, the ship will rotate 90 degrees, compared to IKAROS can only rotate about four or five degrees.
This algorithm is still being updated and refined. One of the biggest challenges to date is to refine the momentum of the spacecraft, controlled by a flywheel.
The momentum wheel (flywheel) is used to calibrate the rotation of the ship. When the Sun sail generates too much thrust, a countervailing force is needed to slow the rotation speed. This is done by using electromagnetic torque bars, navigating the spacecraft used by the Earth's magnetic field.
'We learned a lot of experience from controlling LightSail 2' , Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO said, 'Although the mission was successful, we are still learning how to control the ship more effectively in the future. hybrid '.
It is difficult to predict exactly how far the ship can raise the trajectory only with sunlight. In fact, Light Sail 2 has increased the orbit width by about 900 meters in just one day. However, scientists are still controlling the ship as far as possible to see the limits of new technology.
Application for solar sail technology is infinite. Scientists have proposed using it in the search for alien life, tracking the weather on the Sun and equipping a system to warn asteroids that are about to hit Earth.
Even if it is possible to create extremely high temperatures and radiation-resistant materials, a solar-powered spacecraft can get very close to the Sun to receive tremendous repulsive force from light radiation. Allows it to move further at higher speeds.
'This technology allows us to go further, get out of the Solar System, even infinitely,' Nye said, 'because you no longer worry about fuel. Fuel control systems are also not needed, the ships will be lighter, the supply stations are no longer needed for an interplanetary highway '.
NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Scout probe is expected to launch in mid-2020 which may be equipped with this technology. The mission could be the foundation for future manned ships equipped with solar sails.
The idea of the solar sails used to be in fiction, because the ships need huge sails to have enough thrust. However, the tiny ships eventually pioneered the proving that Solar sails were feasible. Science and technology have turned fiction into reality so quickly that we don't realize it.