US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — A tiny sail made of the finest material – graphene with a thickness of one carbon atom – has undergone initial tests designed to show that it can be a viable material for the manufacture of solar sails for future spacecraft.
Light sails are one of the most promising spaceflight technologies available that can allow us to reach other stellar systems for decades.
Traditional spacecraft carry fuel for their travels and use sophisticated orbital maneuvers around other planets. But the weight of the fuel makes it difficult to start, and complex maneuvers in flight significantly extend the trip.
Solar sails do not need fuel. Thus, spacecraft equipped with them are much easier and easier to launch.
Two spacecraft over the past ten years have already demonstrated this technology, but they used sails made of polyimide and mylar, a polyester film.
Graphene is much lighter. To test whether it can be used as a sail, the researchers used a piece measuring just 3 millimeters.
They placed it in a vacuum and directed several laser beams at it to see if it would work like a solar sail.
A working 1-watt laser caused the sail to accelerate to 1 m / s 2 , similar to the acceleration of an office elevator, but for solar sails, acceleration continues until sunlight continues to shine in the sails, allowing the spacecraft to gain more and more speed.
“Creating graphene is relatively simple and can easily be scaled down to kilometer-wide sails, although deploying a giant sail will be a serious problem,” said Santiago Cartamil-Bueno, GrapheneSail Team Leader and Director of SCALE Nanotech, a research company based in Estonia and Germany.
SCALE Nanotech is currently seeking strategic partners to expand technology for a possible space test. Currently, the development of products for sail technology works through the ESA Business Incubator in Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
Astrid Orr from ESA’s research program says: “This project is an excellent example of scientific research that can be carried out in zero gravity without leaving Earth.”
“Taking graphene and shooting lasers at it is very interesting. To think that this study can help scientists send devices through the solar system and, if we dare to dream, to distant star systems in the coming years – this is our cherry on the cake. ”
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