World Ships: The Solar-Photon Sail Option


G. L. Matloff (2012), JBIS65, 114-118

Refcode: 2012.65.114
Keywords: World ships, interstellar travel, solar sails

The World Ship, a spacecraft large enough to simulate a small-scale terrestrial internal environment, may be the best feasible option to transfer members of a technological civilization between neighboring stars. Because of the projected size of these spacecraft, journey durations of ~1,000 years seem likely. One of the propulsion options for World Ships is the hyper-thin, likely space-manufactured solar-photon sail, unfurled as close to the migrating civilization’s home star as possible. Because the sail and associated structure can be wound around the habitat while not in use, it represents the only known ultimately feasible interstellar propulsion system that can be applied for en route galactic-cosmic ray shielding as well as acceleration/ deceleration. This paper reviews the three suggested sail configurations that can be applied to world ship propulsion: parachute, hollow-body and hoop sails. Possible existing and advanced sail and structure materials and the predicted effects on the sail of the near-Sun space environment are reviewed. Consideration of solar-photon-sail World Ships also affects SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Can we detect such craft in flight? When in a star’s lifetime is migration using such craft likely? What classes of stars are good candidates for solar-sail World-Ship searches?