Magic carpet ride to Pluto

Space scientists have designed a “magic carpet” that could fly to the edge of the solar system in just a year.
The carpet is a giant panel that will be unfurled in space to soak up power from the sun.
It would feed ion engines – beams of electrically charged atoms – that could boost the spaceship at speeds of more than 400,000mph.
That could get explorers to the furthest planet Pluto, three billion miles away, in just 12 months compared to ten years for a probe using conventional rocket motors.
The “magic carpet”, which is still on the drawing board, would be around 3,000 square yards in size and would be attached to its probe in Earth orbit after being flown into space by a shuttle.
Ion enginees on the corners of the panel would stabilise it and a cluster of ion engines on the probe would provide forward thrust.
Designer Rudolf Meyer, of the University of California, says it will require advances in solar technology.
But it could provide an alternative to controversial nuclear-powered rockets such as Nasa’s planned Prometheus mission to Jupiter and its moons, New Scientist reports this week.
Nasa’s £400million New Horizon probe is currently on its way to Pluto but will not get there until 2015.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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