Space Sailing

Space Sailing is the use of any form of spatial propulsion where the thrust from comes from power in the ambient environment. It is analogous to the use of wind power for oceanic travel on a planet’s surface.  So far Humanity has come up with four technological methods that harness ambient thrust potentials.

Solar Sailing is the use of the Sun’s electromagnetic output for photonic propulsion. Most ideas for the use of solar sails work within the visible light spectrum. With some adjustment to materials and methods, other ranges of electromagnetic energy such as ultraviolet and even radio waves could be used.

Electric Sailing is a method where an electrostatic field is generated around a series of extended wires to tap into the momentum of the solar wind. By creating an electric field around the spacecraft, the ionic out-pouring of material from the Sun on the solar wind will impact the generated field and push the spacecraft along.

Magnetic Sailing is very similar to Electric Sailing generating propulsion by tapping the solar wind through the use of an extended magnetic field.  The magnetic sail can additionally be used to push against any local magnetosphere such as that generated by a planet or star.

Beamed Sailing is the idea of taking any of the above methods and using artificial means to create the ambient environmental force needed for the spacecraft to move forward. A solar sail can be pushed along by a generated ray of laser light or concentrated microwaves for instance. A large orbital facility generating an ion stream could push an electric sail at long range.

  • Magnetic Plasma Sail This article was published in a Steve Jackson Games publication, but the math is very accurate for how a Magnetic plasma sail would work  
  • Magnetic plasma sail
    Plasma Magnet Sails to get manned missions to Mars in 1 week A very interesting article that lays out the nature of the Plasma magnet sail.
  • Electric Sail video
  • Fission Sail
    The Fission Sail is an odd little idea suggested by the late Dr. Robert Forward to augment existing other sailing propulsion systems such as solar sails. His suggestion was to create a two layered material as part of the sail. The layer toward the forward direction of the ship would be very absorbent of stray … Continue reading