Reaching Alpha Centauri with Graphene solar sails?

ESA-backed experiment published in the renowned Materials World magazine: Within the European Graphene Flagship project a team of students around Santiago José Cartamil-Bueno, research associate at AMO GmbH Aachen, recently completed experiments at the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen to test the potential of graphene in space-like microgravity as a solar sail material as part of European Space Agency (ESA) Drop Your Thesis! programme.

The important results of the experiment, based on first research activities of Cartamil-Bueno and his team at Delft University of Technology, just recently were published in the internationally renowned UK Materials World magazine.

Solar sails are typically made from aluminium. Materials World quoted Cartamil-Bueno as leader of the so called GrapheneX team: “There are several advantages to graphene and one drawback. Graphene has better mechanical properties, most importantly superior strength with very little mass – being only one atom thick. However, momentum transfer is more efficient when the material is more reflective, which is not the case with graphene. Most light travels through it, but a big part of it is absorbed.” Cartamil-Bueno stated “This can be resolved in the same manner as a standard solar sail, by coating it with aluminum.”

“The goal of the experiment was to measure the vertical displacement of the sail by radiation of different lasers. We simulated how a solar sail would move in space through a vacuum.” Despite some technical problems, the ESA-backed experiment was a success and may indeed lead to the first craft to reach the star system Alpha Centauri. However, as the experiment is not completely accomplished, Cartamil-Bueno is in discussions with the ESA to resume the project.

Please refer to the full article of Materials World:

Please find more about the GrapheneX activities within the Graphene Flagship: