One reason we look so often at sail technologies in these pages is that they offer us ways of leaving the propellant behind. But even as we enter the early days of solar sail experimentation in space, we look toward ways of improving them by somehow getting around their need for solar photons. Robert Zubrin’s work with Dana Andrews has helped us see how so-called magnetic sails (magsails) could be used to decelerate a craft as it moved into a destination system. Now Zubrin looks at moving beyond both this and solar wind-deflecting electric sails toward an ingenious propellantless solution. Zubrin presented the work at last April’s Breakthrough Discuss meeting, and today he fills us in on its principles and advantages. Read on for a look at a form of enhanced electric sail the author has christened the Dipole Drive.
by Robert Zubrin
The dipole drive is a new propulsion system which uses ambient space plasma as propellant, thereby avoiding the need to carry any of its own. The dipole drive remedies two shortcomings of the classic electric sail in that it can generate thrust within planetary magnetospheres and it can generate thrust in any direction in interplanetary space. ...