Over the years, humans have become more and more captivated in space exploration. Ever since it was discovered that it was possible to send humans to space (in 1961 using the Vostok 1), scientists have been engaged in constructing new technology that will assist in transporting humans onto another planet. However, there are many problems that may affect the success of this. One of which is the Earth’s gravitational pull, which is extremely strong. It will require a large amount of energy in order to escape the pull, also a lot in order for the spacecraft to remain in space without being pulled back and to travel for lengthy distances.
As humans gain more knowledge and technology evolves, there have been more and more solutions to this problem. Something that has been used by scientists are solar sails. A solar sail is basically a large sheet of reflective material (similar to a mirror) that is approximately the size of half a basketball court. They are used to propel spacecraft in a specific direction based on the angle the solar sail is placed at. The functionality of the solar sail depends on the photons, which are light particles. Despite being massless, photons still carry momentum as they travel through space, and like everything else, it is capable of using that momentum to produce a push force towards any object. If there was only one photon, there would be virtually no movement in the solar sail because there would not be enough momentum, but because space is filled with photons from the sun, all of the photons travel towards the solar sail until they bounce off the reflective material, using the momentum pushing the solar sail in the opposite direction.
Solar sails can prove to be exceptionally useful towards solving the problem that we face, which is how we will be able to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth. Space shuttles requires a lot of money to operate because of the large amounts of fuel that is required to endure long distance journeys and to prevent the space craft from being pulled back by the gravity. The solar sail, however uses nowhere near as much fuel. The only fuel required is for the launch where the satellite/other spacecraft fires laser/microwave beams at the solar sail, propelling it into space. After it enters space, it relies only on the photons from the sun to move and travel around the solar system. The solar sail can be adjusted to certain angles, to move in certain directions. It is also possible for the solar sail to travel to the edge of the universe all by itself, requiring no fuel. As long as there is photons, the solar sail will be able to move by itself and/or another spacecraft. This largely expands the limits of space exploration, as the solar sail will be able to travel for much further distances than a normal space shuttle, without using any fuel/energy, and therefore solving the problem at hand.
Economic -The solar sail itself does not use carry or use any fuel in space, only the spacecraft used to launch the sail requires fuel. However this is nowhere near as much a space shuttle would use, as fuel is required for launch and also completing the actual journey in space.
A standard solar sail mission costs only around 20-30 million dollars, whereas a space shuttle itself costs around 1.5 – 2 billion dollars, not including the extra fuel and other technology/spacecraft required for a mission. There is a drastic difference between the two, and therefore by using solar sails it can save a lot of money that can be used towards other research/missions. -Although solar sails costs less than a space shuttle, the material that they are made from can be hard to obtain. The material must be highly reflective in order to increase functionality, but also must be able to endure the different temperatures/climates in space. There are usually made from special material specifically made for space missions such as CP-1, which is a type of polyimide that is not commonly seen/found every day and therefore may be sold for a decent price.
Social/health -If we use solar sails to successfully transport humans to another planet, it will largely benefit scientific research and knowledge. The solar sail is believed to be able to travel to the edge of the solar system only relying on photons, and if it successfully does that with humans inside the spacecraft then it will open up many more topics and areas of interests to look into, and more possibilities of human space exploration.
We could also analyse how the health of the astronaut was affected during the mission, and possibly make adjustments for more missions of space exploration in the future, using the solar sail. -The community of some scientists/companies may disapprove of using the solar sail for space exploration. Although it has been used to transport spacecraft in general, it has not transported any that were carrying humans. Scientists may believe it is too dangerous and too risky. There has not been enough research as to exactly how it will work. It is highly likely for something to go wrong during the mission that may affect the astronaut’s health that will affect how the public thinks of the company conducting the mission and may cause more disapproval of similar missions in the future. There would be too much radiation for a human body to handle just to travel to mars, according to space spokesperson and astronautics engineer, Dr Louis Friedman.
The use of solar sails is very effective in solving the problem we are presented with. There are plenty advantages to using it. The main reason scientists are so interested in it is because of how it will benefit them economically. As it does not require any fuel to travel throughout space, it costs considerably less than a space shuttle would. It can also have a positive impact on the community/company that conducts the mission where the solar sails transports spacecraft that is carrying an astronaut. If it is successful, the possibilities of human space exploration will increase and enlarge drastically. However, there are downsides of using solar sailing as the solution to our problem. Even though that the solar sail reduces the cost, the material the solar sail is made is very specific and might cost a lot to obtain. There is a large possibility that the mission might fail and affect the astronaut’s health to a point as serious as death, as the sail has not been used to transport humans before, which will also affect how the public views the company, and cause more disapprovals of future missions. Overall, I think that this solution may not be worth it because of such a large chance of death for our astronaut. However, I think that it still benefits scientific research by transporting spacecraft without humans inside, even though it means that our problem will not be solved.