The Perforated Solar Sail – Its Application to Interstellar Travel


G.L. Matloff (2003), JBIS53, 255-261

Refcode: 2003.53.255

In response to a recent publication greatly overestimating the potential performance of perforated solar sails, an analysis is presented here demonstrating as rigorously as possible the performance of such sails in interstellar transport. A historical review of the optical theory utilized–that of Driscoll and Vaughan–is first presented, followed by a consideration of various aspects of this theory, which allows estimation of reflectivity, transmissivity, absorptivity and emissivity of metallic mesh solar sails, under certain restrictive conditions. Three candidate mesh materials are then compared: aluminium, magnesium, and scandium. Aluminium, being superior, is chosen for further evaluation. Two candidate aluminium meshes are next compared for application to probes requiring several decades to reach an Oort cloud target 10,000-AU from the Sun. The best performing mesh is then applied to 106–107 kg worldship payloads requiring 1-2 millennia to reach Alpha Centauri. Some consideration is given to methods of flight-duration reduction. Perforated solar sails are not a “magic bullet” allowing for interstellar travel velocities in excess of 0.01c, but they do compare favorably in performance to the best possible hyperthin metallic-sheet sails.