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Barnes, Nathan L’Garde, Inc., Tustin, California.
- Solar-sail designs
- Sunjammer mission
- Additional Reading
Solar sailing is a form of space travel that uses pressure provided by sunlight for propulsion. Traveling through the heavens on starlight may sound like science fiction, but that is what solar sailors aim to accomplish. James Clerk Maxwell's equations describe the momentum and pressure that light imparts on objects in its path. While these equations are perhaps intimidating, the concept is simple enough; sunlight will create a pressure on a surface that it strikes. This simple idea underpins the concept of solar sailing. Solar pressure is not all that dissimilar from the pressure one feels when standing in a breeze. However, the solar pressure felt on Earth is roughly 1,000,000 times weaker than the wind pressure from a gentle breeze (15 km/h or 9 mi/h). In fact, it is not until several hundred kilometers of altitude that solar pressure finally surpasses the drag from residual atmosphere.
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