The electric solar wind sail developed by Dr. Pekka Janhunen at the Finnish Meteorological Institute might revolutionise travelling in deep space. The electric sail is a Finnish invention which uses the solar wind as its thrust source and therefore needs no fuel or propellant. The solar wind is a continuous plasma stream emanating from the Sun. Changes in the properties of the solar wind cause auroral brightening and magnetic storms, among other things.
Progress without problems
Over its two-year history, the electric sail has developed rapidly from invention towards implementation and has aroused much international interest. The main parts of the device are long metallic tethers and a solar-powered electron gun which keeps the tethers positively charged. The solar wind exerts a small but continuous thrust on the tethers and the spacecraft. The electric sail and its applications have been developed mainly at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, but component work is carried out at the University of Helsinki and in Germany, Sweden, Russia and Italy.
“We haven't encountered major problems in any of the technical fields thus far. This has already enabled us to start planning the first test mission,” says Dr. Pekka Janhunen. An important subgoal was reached when the Electronics Research Laboratory of the University of Helsinki managed to develop a method for constructing a multiline micrometeoroid-resistant tether out of very thin metal wires using ultrasonic welding. The newly developed technique allows the bonding together of thin metal wires in any geometry; thus, the method might also have spinoff applications outside the electric sail.
Potential important applications of the electric sail
If and when realised, the electric sail could enable faster and cheaper Solar System science and exploration. It might also enable economic utilisation of asteroid resources for, e.g. producing rocket fuel in orbit.
“The electric sail might lower the cost of all space activities and thereby, for example, help making large solar power satellites a viable option for clean electricity production. Solar power satellites orbiting in the permanent sunshine of space could transmit electric power to Earth by microwaves without interruptions. Continuous power would be a major benefit compared to, e.g. ground-based solar power where storing the energy over night, cloudy weather and winter are tricky issues, especially here in the far North,” says Dr. Pekka Janhunen.
The electric sail was invented as a by-product of basic research done at the Finnish Meteorological Institute on the interaction of the solar wind with planets and their atmospheres. Work on the electric sail in Finland is currently funded by the Academy of Finland and private foundations.
The first international electric sail meeting will be arranged at ESA ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands on May 19, 2008.
Eija Vallinheimo | alfa
Midwife and signpost for photons
11.12.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
New research identifies how 3-D printed metals can be both strong and ductile
11.12.2017 | University of Birmingham
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences
11.12.2017 | Information Technology