February 15th, 2008

ronin

We must not allow a laser squirrel space-elevator gap!



This is why solar sails are so slow. It’s not that light doesn’t have that much energy, it’s that it has so little momentum. If you set a squirrel on a solar sail and shone a laser on the underside, do you know how much power would be required to lift the squirrel? About 1.21 gigawatts. This is awful. If we were lifting the squirrel with a motor, railgun, or electric catapult, with 1.21 gigawatts we could send it screaming upward at ridiculous speeds.

This is where Meyer and friends come in. They’ve pointed out a novel way to extract momentum from the photon: bounce it back and forth between the sail and a large mirror (on a planet or moon, perhaps).


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http://blag.xkcd.com/2008/02/15/the-laser-elevator/
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