Propellant-free system could accelerate a 1000 kg spacecraft to more than 67,000 miles per hour in one year
January 10, 2013
Artist’s impression of an electric solar wind sail (credit: Alexandre Szames)
The Electronics Research Laboratory at the University of Helsinki has successfully constructed a 1-km-long electric sail (ESAIL), which would interact with the solar wind (charged particles from the sun) to produce long-distance propulsion power for a spacecraft.
Using ultrasonic welding, the feat proves that manufacturing full-size ESAIL tethers is possible. Experts previously considered it impossible to weld together such thin wires.
Invented by Dr. Pekka Janhunen at the Finnish Kumpula Space Centre in 2006, the ESAIL consists of long, thin (25–50 micron) electrically conductive tethers manufactured from aluminum wires. A full-scale sail can include up to 100 tethers, each 20 kilometers long.