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Solar sail with Ion thruster

  1. Jul 3, 2015 #1
    I've heard a lot of people talk about solar sails versus things like Ion thrusters, and it seems that both have their advantages and disadvantages. So I was wondering whether or not it's possible to use both on a single spacecraft? That way you could get the speed of an ion thruster along with that constant push of the solar sail... Is this possible?

    I guess what I'm thinking is something like one of those sail boats on earth that also has a few engines on board. I know this is a completely different animal, but that's the same general idea, I think. I don't sail, so I'm not sure.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 4, 2015 #2
    Doesn't necessarily have to be Ion Thruster, I just want to know about using solar sails along with any other, more "traditional", propulsion method on a spacecraft.
  4. Jul 5, 2015 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Solar sails need extremely light spacecraft to be effective. I'm not sure if that scales well enough to combine it with other propulsion methods (=more mass) - the sail would have to be extremely large to give a notable effect.
  5. Jul 11, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I once saw an article that described a solar sail made of aluminum, only two atoms thick, but a diameter the size of The Moon. It would weigh only one gram. Carrying a four gram payload, and boosted to 0.3 c with lasers it could reach the nearest star in only a few years, then beam back a selfie.

    The only obstacles are building and deploying a system like that. Lots of luck.

    P.s. The autocorrect on my iPad tried to change "nearest star" to "nearest Starbucks,". If I posted that, you would have all had a chuckle at my expense.
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