Monday, July 1, 2013

Inspiring Technology: Voyager I, Pocket Spacecraft, and Solar Sails

Simulation of the launch of the spaceprobe Sunjammer, which uses revolutionary solar sail technology.
This week on Inspiring Technology I am going to highlight some of the amazing technologies that are shaping the way we look at space travel. From the first man-made object to leave the solar system to new technologies that can potentially fuel intergalactic flight, developments in the realm of space exploration are increasing rapidly. In the near future, Voyager I is set to leave the solar system, miniature rockets could be used for personal lunar research, and the first solar sail will be launched from Earth

Voyager I

After 35 long years of travel, the space probe Voyager I is nearing the edge of our solar system. It is not known exactly how long it will take until the voyager breaks free of the outermost extremities, known as the Heliosphere, but many estimations predict it will break free in as soon as three months from now.
This newly discovered Heliosphere is new, previously unknown territory. As soon as the Voyager entered this outer area, the amount of electrically charged particles, abundant within our solar system, vanished. This region also experiences increased radiation from outside the solar system, giving NASA scientists a first peek at the harsh conditions outside of our solar system.
The Voyager I was not designed to run forever. NASA scientists estimate that most of the sensors on Voyager I will be shut down by 2020, and that the whole probe will be shut down by 2025. It will, however, have already been the first man-made craft to leave the solar system before then.

Pocket Spacecraft

The pioneering space company Pocket Spacecraft recently announced plans to begin building a fleet of miniature spacecrafts known as "Scouts". These scouts would consist of flat disks of the same material space suits are made with. Each person can pay to have a disk sent to the moon for them for $300. They then get to have their own picture put on the disk when it lands. If someone wants to use it to conduct research, they can purchase extra packages that include other sensors and allow the disk to communicate with them.
The goal of these disks is to provide individuals with the ability to experience space at a relatively reasonable price and provide students with an easy way to conduct lunar research. The company will send them all out in one large mother-ship called CubeSat, whose progress can be tracked from any smartphone or computer.

Solar Sails

NASA's new Sunjammer spacecraft is set to launch in November 2014. This new breed of spacecraft will only use fuel to exit our orbit, after which it will expand its sails and begin using the suns energy to travel.
Solar Sails work by reflecting the suns rays. Researchers at NASA have researched this technology for thirty years, and have discovered that when light reflects off of an object it produces a minute force. This force is almost completely negligible unless it is used over a large area. However, in a solar sail the size of a football field like the one being launched, the force will slowly add up and result in potentially sub-light speeds. Many estimations predict that if it is durable, the Sunjammer could  pass Voyager I in under a decade.

For more information on Voyager I read this article on the Huffington Post. For more information on Pocket Spacecraft visit their site here. For more information on Solar Sails read this article by

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