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Relativistic Light Sails Need to Billow

  • Matthew F. Campbell
    Matthew F. Campbell
    Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States
  • John Brewer
    John Brewer
    Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90024, United States
    More by John Brewer
  • Deep Jariwala
    Deep Jariwala
    Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States
  • Aaswath P. Raman
    Aaswath P. Raman
    Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90024, United States
  • , and 
  • Igor Bargatin*
    Igor Bargatin
    Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States
    *Email for I.B.: [email protected]
Cite this: Nano Lett. 2022, 22, 1, 90–96
Publication Date (Web):December 23, 2021
https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c03272
Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract

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    We argue that light sails with nanometer-scale thicknesses that are rapidly accelerated to relativistic velocities by lasers must be significantly curved in order to reduce their intrafilm mechanical stresses and avoid tears. Using an integrated opto-thermo-mechanical model, we show that the diameter and radius of curvature of a circular light sail should be comparable in magnitude, both on the order of a few meters, in optimal designs for gram-scale payloads. Moreover, we demonstrate that, when sufficient laser power is available, a sail’s acceleration length decreases as its curvature increases. Our findings provide critical guidance for emerging light sail design programs, which herald a new era of interstellar space exploration to destinations such as the Oort cloud, the Alpha Centauri system, and beyond.

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    The Supporting Information is available free of charge at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c03272.

    • Derivations of the equations used in this work and complex refractive index data for Al2O3 and MoS2 (PDF)

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    Cited By

    This article is cited by 2 publications.

    1. John Brewer, Matthew F. Campbell, Pawan Kumar, Sachin Kulkarni, Deep Jariwala, Igor Bargatin, Aaswath P. Raman. Multiscale Photonic Emissivity Engineering for Relativistic Lightsail Thermal Regulation. Nano Letters 2022, 22 (2) , 594-601. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c03273
    2. Dan-Cornelius Savu, Andrew J. Higgins. Structural stability of a lightsail for laser-driven interstellar flight. Acta Astronautica 2022, 201 , 376-393. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2022.09.003

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