February 5, 2023

Plasma sail spacecraft could soar like an albatross to Alpha Centauri

Plasma sail spacecraft could soar like an albatross to Alpha Centauri
Plasma sail spacecraft could soar like an albatross to Alpha CentauriPlasma sail spacecraft could soar like an albatross to Alpha Centauri

A spacecraft equipped with a “sail” made from plasma could build up speed by repeatedly crossing the boundary at the edge of the solar system, just as an albatross soars by taking advantage of regions of different wind speeds

Space 2 December 2022

The termination shock is at the centre of this diagram, where the solar wind first reaches interstellar space

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

A spacecraft that crosses the boundary of plasma at the edge of our solar system could be boosted to the extreme speeds necessary for interstellar travel, using a similar principle to how an albatross maintains flight on Earth.

The idea is an extension of a solar sail, which uses a large, reflective surface to “ride” the stream of particles being emitted by the sun, gradually increasing in speed over time as particles …