NASA breakthrough: How Bill Nye outlined tech to allow ‘extraordinary’ rocket-speed travel

Solar sails are a method of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors, proposed by scientists since the Eighties. In 2010, a team from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre, along with the NASA Ames Research Centre, launched the NonoSail-D2 which became the first successful low-Earth orbit solar sail. The success of the mission inspired a whole new generation of scientists, including researchers at The Planetary Society, who developed the LightSail 1 and LightSail 2.

In July this year, the LightSail 2 was successfully launched and deployed its sail, becoming a fully functional spacecraft using the new technology.

Bill Nye, who is the CEO of the non-profit foundation, was asked during a Q&A session on Twitter on September 17 whether the success of the technology will help to conquer the costumes.

The tweet read: “I heard we could get to the next habitable planet in a few years with the space sail. 

“We just need a sail the size of Texas to do it?”

Solar sails such as LightSail 2 may revolutionise space exploration

Bill Nye

Dr Nye, who is known to many as “The Science Guy,” denied the claim, but explained why the success was such a big step for space science.

He stated: “A sail the size of Texas is not going to take us to another inhabitable planet in a few years.

“But solar sails such as Lightsail 2 may revolutionise space exploration here in the Solar System because we can go at extraordinary speeds with no rocket fuel.

“There are certain missions that solar sails are ideal for.

“Put a solar sail spacecraft at an inferior orbit closer to the Sun than the Earth is and keep an eye out for asteroids or maybe more importantly coronal mass ejections from the Sun which sends a beam of charged particles slashing through space towards the Earth which could disable many of our communication systems.

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“So there are certain missions that solar sails are ideal for, but a Texas-sized one going to a nearby inhabitable planet is probably not among them.”

The Planetary Society works closely with NASA to support future projects and the Lightsail 1 is expected to piggyback on future launches.

Dr Nye went on to give some more details on how the spacecraft works.

He added: “Let me remind you that it is not the solar wind, it’s not particles streaming from the Sun that give a solar sail spacecraft that push.

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“It is light itself, photons.

“There is about 100 times more pressure from photons than charged particles.

“Fascinating, I hope, carry on questioning it though.”

Last week, Elon Musk was also revealing the secrets of his company, SpaceX’s, success.

He said: “I think I’ve learned a lot of lessons about how to make things go fast.

“And then I’ve propagated those lessons to the SpaceX team and there’s just like an incredibly talented hardworking team at SpaceX.

“In fact, at times, I think maybe there are too many talented people at SpaceX, we have too many talented people, we’re cornering the market.

“But there’s this very talented group that works super hard and they have to take the general approach of, if something is taking too long, the design is wrong.

“Therefore, the design must be modified to accelerate progress.”

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