Extending outward from the HERTS spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminium wires will produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust.
Space travel is measured in astronomical units, or the distance from Earth to the sun. At the asteroid belt, which is 5 AU, the E-Sail will have an effective area of more than 1,119 square km. This will increase with distance increase and lead to continued acceleration much longer than comparable propulsion technologies. At the asteroid belt, the energy of the solar photons dissipates, which in theory should stop acceleration. However this doesn’t apply to the protons in the solar wind, and with the continuous flow of protons, and the increased area, the E-Sail will continue to accelerate to 16-20 AU.
As I have written elsewhere on this site, a better understanding of our Heliosphere is long overdue. While Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking were also discussing last week the concept of interstellar travel, let’s find out more about our own cosmic backyard first. Is there a giant planet or dwarf star lurking in the Oort Cloud at the edge of our Solar System?
Source: NASA/MSFC, courtesy of The Watchers: http://thewatchers.adorraeli.com/2016/04/13/herts-e-sail-concept-begins-testing/
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