My name is Ben Diedrich. I started solarsails.info 20 years ago to educate people about solar sailing - navigating spacecraft through the solar system - and beyond - on the pressure of sunlight. To date, one experimental solar sail spacecraft - Japan's IKAROS - was launched in 2010 and is still sailing around the sun. The Planetary Society's LightSail is on the way in with test flights in 2015 and 2016. I want to see many more solar sails fly throughout the solar system and beyond, carrying out missions to fulfill humanity's and the Earth's needs and dreams. To make that a reality, you can help me - by learning to solar sail.
I've spent many years writing articles, making graphics, and giving talks to inform and educate people about solar sails so they can become advocates themselves. That approach only goes so far. I want to reach more people on a deeper level than I have before. Writing, spoken words, and pictures only go so deep in the human mind. Now, a picture you can grab, manipulate, and experiment with is more fun and interesting, and will teach you far more at a deeper level, like throwing a ball, riding a bike, or sailing a boat.
To that end, I have started building a virtual solar sail flight school where you can take control of a solar sail spacecraft and learn the real, physical, concrete ways that a sail behaves in space and how to make it go where you want. The physical intuition you develop may help demystify the math and science if you want to learn those too.
Learn to steer a sail so it sails towards or away from the sun
To spend the time building the flight school, I need your financial support through this Patreon campaign. To give you an idea of what the solar sail flight school will involve, check out this example where you can see a common solar sail design in space, rotate around, and zoom in and out. Then, advance to the next lesson where you can select different parts of the sail and learn what they do.
I plan on using the same basic simulation to teach:
- How sunlight hits and reflects off of a sail
- How sunlight pushes on physical objects
- Steering a sail
- Deflect sunlight to push a sail in the direction you want
- How orbits work, and how to change them for space travel
- How to change orbits using a sail to go where you want
- Timing maneuvers to rendezvous with planets, asteroids, or other spacecraft
- Combine your skills to navigate a solar sail to a destination of your choice
- Try your hand at some potential future solar sail missions
- Explore asteroids, comets, planets, and return with samples
- Hover over the poles of Earth to observe the environment and relay communications
- Hover between the Earth and sun, watching for storms blowing off the sun
- Sail in close to the sun in various exotic orbits to study how our star works
- Dive in close to the sun for a burst of speed to reach the outer solar system - or leave it altogether
- Carry cargo and colonists with the giant sails of the future to Mars and other ports of call
- Ride a terawatt laser to the stars
Hover a sail over the poles or between the Earth and sun to observe the environment and space weather, or relay polar and satellite communications
Who should support this project?
- If you are interested in learning how to sail in space, help me build the school to teach you
- If you are a solar sail expert, help me build a bigger grass roots community who understand solar sails and their numerous uses
- If you are a general space enthusiast, you will learn about spacecraft and space travel through the example of solar sailing
- If you are a space advocate of any persuasion - Moon, Mars, asteroids, interstellar, or all of the above - help me create a more informed grass roots community
- If you want to learn more about science and mathematics, this solar sail flight school offers a physically intuitive and concrete way to approach astronomy, physics, geometry, vectors, trigonometry, and calculus
- If you are an advocate for greater science, math, and engineering literacy, consider the value of the school to that effort
I'm looking forward to working with you.