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Date: Prior to 1993


Question:
In the future, how practical will solar sails for propelling space vehicles throughout space?



Replies:
I am no expert in space propulsion, and the concept of catching the "solar wind" to induce propulsion seems fascinating, but I do know that because of the gravitational pull of the sun, all space vehicles must follow orbital trajectories around the sun. It would take an infinite amount of energy to travel in a "straight" line through space, as sci-fi shows like Star Trek portray, which is impossible in the foreseeable future (though in the 24th century, who knows!). Today, we launch a space craft, which first orbits the earth, then give it a "delta vee," a change in velocity, to a larger orbit, and by increments, increase the size of the orbit until it enters an orbit around the sun. By calculating everything right, this larger orbit will take the craft to the moon or another planet, where it can enter into that body's orbit, or use its gravitational field to "sling-shot" it into a still greater orbit to reach a further destination, etc. So, space travel is all orbital, at least for now.

RC Winther


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