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Aerographite: An Advance in Sail Materials with Deep Space Implications

27 Jul 2020, 17:09 UTC
Aerographite: An Advance in Sail Materials with Deep Space Implications
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Invented at the Technical University of Hamburg and developed with the aid of researchers at the University of Kiel, a new material called aerographite offers striking prospects for solar sail missions within the Solar Systems as well as interstellar precursor implications. Judging from the calculations in a just published paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics, aerographite conceivably enables a mission to Proxima Centauri with a flight time of less than two centuries. We are not talking about laser-driven missions here, but rather meter-scale craft that would be pushed to interstellar velocities by solar radiation; i.e., true solar sails.
But let’s focus near-term before going interstellar. I’ve been talking to René Heller (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen) about the paper, along with co-authors Guillem Anglada-Escudé (Institut de Ciencies Espacials, Barcelona), Michael Hippke (Sonneberg Observatory, Germany) and Pierre Kervella (Observatoire de Paris). Just what are the prospects for aerographite, and what are its problems? The authors stress that aerographite for space applications implies a development path through laboratory work and near-term experimentation in space. “Before we run, we need to walk,” as Anglada-Escudé told me in an email that summarized how the idea grew.
Anglada-Escudé and Heller had been studying ...

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