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Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel Hardcover – 22 Aug 2008

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From the reviews:

"Conceptually simple and romantic, solar sailing is an enchanting technological solution for space exploration. … Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel is the latest book to explore this topic … . Aimed at undergraduates, the book convincingly captures the history of ideas about solar sails, their current state of play and their future promise. … Suitable for aerospace students and keen enthusiasts alike, this book may one day inspire some of them to build a solar-sail-powered vessel." (Stuart Clark, Nature, Vol. 452, April, 2008)

"You would … find a more knowledgable team to write a book titled Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel (Copernicus, 2008), and it’s a pleasure to add that despite the sub-title, questions of interstellar significance receive solid treatment. … a title that needs to be on your shelf if you’re seriously interested in the next step as we move beyond rocketry." (Centauri Dreams, September, 2008)

"Solar sails have for decades promised to revolutionize in-space transportation. … In Solar Sails, Giovanni Vulpetti, Les Johnson, and Gregory L. Matloff try to serve both nontechnical and technical audiences by dividing the book into four parts. … The result is a book that provides does provide a comprehensive yet readable overview of how solar sails work and how they could be used in the near future." (Jeff Foust, The Space Review, October, 2008)

"This is a top-notch treatment of a propulsion concept that’s clearly innovative and a ‘must have’ capability to forge outward to the stars. Easy to read … the general reader will find that the authors care about you understanding the implications of harnessing solar sails. … Peppered with illustrative drawings and photos, as well as a glossary of terms, this book is a valuable contribution to the field and helps keep the sunlight shining on an important enabling technology for spacefaring societies." (Coalition for Space Exploration, October, 2008)

"The book is composed of two main sections, one of which takes a look at solar sailing development from a non-technical viewpoint, while the latter section is a technical look at solar sailing mechanics and engineering. … I would recommend this book … . this book has a lot to offer to both non-technical and technical readers." (Visual Astronomy, December, 2008)

"The book is divided into four major parts; the first three are directed towards non-engineers with formulas kept to a minimum, the language here is for entry-level space readers. The last part is slightly more advanced, aimed towards students of engineering and people with a more technical mind. … The book targets a broad audience who would be interested in an introduction to a new technology … . It’s a good choice for someone looking at a new technology and offers a modest price tag." (The Space Fellowship, December, 2008)

"... this book serves as an introduction to the idea of solar sailing. It starts with a review of rocket physics... much of the writing serves to inform the reader of the impractical nature of such forms of propulsion. Hence, by contrast, this section capably serves to show the practical nature of solar sails... By using common nomenclature, the book easily conveys the necessary scientific elements to both a generalist and a space enthusiast... it provides details aimed to attract the interest of graduate and post-graduate students. And, there's lots to attract, especially as so little space validation has occurred for this technology. Whether unfurling space sails, dealing with desorption, or controlling nanobots, this book provides many challenges and lots of promise for the future but also recognizes a need for a lot of effort to reach maturity. Yet, the book shows, through references to individuals' work and the work of national space agencies, that the concept is real, practicable and potentially very rewarding..." (Mark Mortimer, Universe Today, March, 2009)

"The book’s contents include a history of space engines from rockets to sails, a description of space missions involving sails, construction details of the sailcraft, and technical aspects of space sailing. … There are … eight pages of color photos, a good seven-page glossary, and a nine-page index. This work will be useful only for readers interested in the possibility of using solar sails for spacecraft propulsion. Summing Up: Recommended. Professionals, practitioners, and informed general readers." (W. E. Howard, Choice, Vol. 46 (6), February, 2009)

"‘Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel’ takes the concept of solar travel and applies it to what could possibly be a new revolution in interplanetary travel as time goes forward. … Enhanced with indexes, glossaries, and recommendations for further reading, ‘Solar Sails’ is a strong choice for those very intrigued with astronomy." (James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review, April, 2009)

"In their latest book, Vulpetti, Johnson and Matliff argue the case for space-sailing as a viable technology for travel within the Solar System. Solar Sails – a novel approach to interplanetary travel is written with both the novice space-travel enthusiast and the more technically advanced reader in mind. The book is very attractively produced, with a generous supply of diagrams and colour/black-&-white photographs that help explain what at times can be quite difficult concepts. ... All in all Solar Sails is a handsome book and a good introduction to a technology whose time I feel is imminent – may the force be with it!" (Gerard McMahon, Astronomy and Space, June, 2009)

"The text is lucid and clearly written … . a solid and broad introduction to the principles and inherent possibilities of solar sailing. The authors do an excellent job of explaining the principles, and devote a great deal of attention to making sure the reader understands their subject. It succeeds in leading the reader through the topic on both a conceptual and physical level, and its lucid exposition communicates the promise and advantages of a system with great potential for Solar System exploration." (Anselm Aston, The Observatory, Vol. 129 (1211), August, 2009)

From the Back Cover

The reality of sunlight-based sailing in space began in May 2010,  and solar sail technology and science have continued to evolve rapidly through new space missions. Using the power of the Sun's light for regular travel propulsion will be the next major leap forward in our journey to other worlds. This book is the second edition of the fascinating explanation of solar sails, how they work and how they will be used in the exploration of space. Updated with 35% new material, this second edition includes three new chapters on missions operated by Japan and the US, as well as projects that are in progress. The remainder of the book describes the heritage of exploration in water-borne sailing ships and the evolution to space-vehicle propulsion; as well as nuclear, solar-electric, nuclear-electric and antimatter rocket devices. It also discusses various sail systems that may use either sunlight or solar wind, and the design, fabrication and steering challenges associated with solar sails. The first edition was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, and deemed “a title that needs to be on your shelf if you’re seriously interested in the next step as we move beyond rocketry" (Centauri Dreams, September 2008). Written with a mixed approach, this book appeals to both the general public as well as those with a more scientifically technical background. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The State of the Art on Solar Sails 4 Sept. 2008
By Paul A. Gilster - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a review of Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, that I have published on my Centauri Dreams weblog. The text follows:

The vast laser-driven sails envisioned by Robert Forward have always fired my imagination. Hundreds of kilometers in diameter, they would rely upon a gigantic Fresnel lens in the outer Solar System to keep the critical laser beam tightly collimated over interstellar distances. Forward conceived of mission designs to stars as far away as Epsilon Eridani, journeys that could be achieved within a human lifetime. He even provided return capability through the use of a multi-part sail. You can read a fictional treatment of this in his novel Rocheworld.

But how do we get from here to there? As of today, we're close enough to having an operational space sail that if we can talk SpaceX into lofting the NanoSail-D duplicate, we could be shaking out our first space sail within months. Assuming we do go operational before too many months (or years!) pass, the question then becomes, what kind of missions are possible between the laser-beamed lightsail of science fictional imagining and the practical workhorse sail that may well open up a space-based infrastructure for our use.

Such questions point to the pleasures of reading a new book on solar sails by three leading experts. Gregory Matloff has been examining the concept for the past thirty years, with seminal papers in the 1980s and continuing work on near-term concepts. His regular consulting at Marshall Space Flight Center keeps him in touch with co-author Les Johnson, NASA's deputy manager of the Advanced Concepts office at Huntsville. The third author is Italian scientist Giovanni Vulpetti, who has spent most of his professional life on questions of interstellar propulsion ranging from antimatter annihilation to sail design, including the Aurora Project, a sail mission to the heliopause that grew out of earlier work at Italian aerospace firm Alenia Spazio and other European venues.

You would be hard pressed, in other words, to find a more knowledgable team to write a book titled Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel (Copernicus, 2008), and it's a pleasure to add that despite the sub-title, questions of interstellar significance receive solid treatment. Getting from here (a technology ready to fly for testing) to there (a genuine interstellar craft deploying sail technology) is a long haul, but near-term concepts for a Solar Polar Imager, putting a payload into a highly inclined orbit around the Sun to study its polar regions, are feasible. And so are missions like Heliostorm, which could use a sail to maintain a position between Earth and the Sun (at roughly 0.70 AU, but with a period of one year) to provide advance warning of solar storms.

We can add longer-term prospects that still fall well within our engineering capabilities, missions for comet rendezvous, Mars sample return and, via a Sundiver maneuver, a probe to the heliopause some 200 AU out. The latter, the authors note, could continue for a few decades more to study the environment at the Sun's gravitational lens some 550 AU from Sol, providing a useful check on Einsteinian general relativity.

All of these concepts and more are discussed here, but it's the longer-term missions (still using solar photons, not beamed lasers) that truly up the ante. I remember talking to Matloff about them during a Huntsville visit some years back, but the book lays them out sequentially, showing us the limits of the technology in terms of true interstellar missions, and pointing us toward the laser and other beaming options that may be necessary if we are to improve travel times significantly.

For in addition to the outer system work we'd like to perform, examining NEO deflection or developing mining strategies for interesting objects, we'd like to get all the way out to the Oort Cloud, where as many as a trillon comets may lurk. A specialized task indeed, as the authors note:

"This is a task for the Oort cloud explorer, perhaps the ultimate sailcraft before a true starship. Imagine a sail 100 nanometers thick, perhaps a kilometer in radius, which is constructed of material capable of withstanding a perihelion pass of about 0.05 AU (about ten solar radii). Such a craft could perform a Sun dive and project its payload toward the stars at velocities in excess of 500 kilometers per second."

All of which gets us to a few thousand AU before the vehicle's operational life ends, but we're still -- at 500 km/sec -- talking about 2000 years to travel the 40 trillion kilometers to the Centauri stars. Can we do better? Matloff worked with Michael Mautner and Eugene Mallove in a series of papers in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society back in the 1980s to examine such questions. An optimized interstellar sail would use a nanometers-thin monolayer of beryllium, aluminum or niobium, all highly reflective and temperature tolerant. It could be mounted partially unfurled behind an asteroid that would serve as a sunshade, then put into a parabolic solar orbit with a close pass by the Sun measured in the millions of kilometers.

The sail, of course, would be unfurled at the right moment to maximize acceleration. The results:

"Analysis revealed that acceleration times measured in hours or days were possible. By the time the ship reaches the orbit of Jupiter, the sail could be furled, since acceleration has fallen to a negligible value. The sail could be used as cosmic ray shielding and later unfurled for deceleration. Flight times to Alpha Centauri, even for massive payloads that could carry human crews, could approximate a millennium. Of course the hyperthin sail sheets required to `tow' such large, multimillion-kilogram payloads would be enormous -- in the vicinity of 100 kilometers."

A thousand years to Centauri -- this is the figure I recall from my Huntsville discussion with Matloff, and it stuck with me as a kind of insurance policy. If we were to learn, for example, that we had for reasons of survival to exit our Solar System, the prospect of getting at least a fraction of humanity to another, although demanding a lengthy, multi-generational voyage, would not be beyond the reach of a technology we could conceive of developing within this century, using the laws of physics as currently understood. All of which confirms what Robert Forward used to say, "Travel to the stars is difficult but not impossible," a real reversal of many pre-Forward opinions.

There is more to be said about laser-beaming and other sail concepts (not to mention sail design, construction, deployment and trajectories), but we'll look at the book's treatment of these in a later post. Consider this simply a heads-up to alert you to a title that needs to be on your shelf if you're seriously interested in the next step as we move beyond rocketry. And move beyond it we must, to explore the advantages of leaving the propellant behind to maximize payload for missions that may one day take us deep into the Solar System and beyond.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Sail me to the stars 23 Sept. 2009
By Alex Tolley - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book on the technology of solar sails and the first I've read that goes into so much detail. Most of the book explains why various types of rocket technology are inadequate for traversing deep space and why solar sails fill the requirements. The details on construction of solar sails are excellent. Finally there are some concluding chapters that delve into the math of sailcraft propulsion.

It's hard to find any fault with this book. To me the authors are a bit too dismissive of rockets and there is no mention of VASIMIR rockets. I would have liked some more details on actual mission profiles and payloads, but I appreciate that would have been too speculative.

For anyone interested in this form of propulsion that has been waiting in the wings for decades, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A strong choice for those very intrigued with astronomy 9 Jan. 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Wind has been an abundant resource which allowed man to travel great distances before electricity. Could wind also be the thing that allows man to travel great distances through space? "Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel" takes the concept of solar travel and applies it to what could possibly be a new revolution in interplanetary travel as time goes forward. Claiming them as an absolute necessity given the limits of current fossil fuels in space travel, it details the technology and presents some very intriguing ideas. Enhanced with indexes, glossaries, and recommendations for further reading, "Solar Sails" is a strong choice for those very intrigued with astronomy.
worth every minute 4 Sept. 2014
By Rick Boatright - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not a casual read, but worth every moment if you're interested in the possibilities of real-world interstellar travel. it is no surprise that solar sails are _really hard_ but look to be do-able. Nasa's next sail experiment is scheduled to fly aboard the first STS launch. Let's hope it works.
Super Interesting! I've been reading this book on the ... 28 Jan. 2015
By Robert LaRue - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Super Interesting! I've been reading this book on the side in between homework and classes. This book is great because it feels like leisure reading, yet it still incorporates technical material that scientists and engineers will appreciate.
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