Solar Sailing | De-Classic-Space Encyclopedia
After centuries of experimentation solar sailing is commonplace... although not used in the ways that many envisioned in the Old Earth days. Ultimately the vision of using solar sailers to travel vast distances never eventuated for the same reason why the nuclear powered colony ships never did; life span. Considering the average lifespan at the time, it wasn't possible to arrive in time... and persuading someone to give up their life just so their kids might be able to visit and hopefully live on a new world was understandably difficult. Deeping proved to be an inadequate solution as well. But for a probe (especially interstellar) it's the idea solution. Many probes don't need to be fast... and even if they do it's easier (and more reliable) to use multiple probes for a similar effect. Most systems have thousand of probes that are for the most part just powered by the local star. Communication, monitoring, navigation, cleaning, repair, resupply, mining... all practically provided with no long term expense.
But as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. Someone had to think of an less practical way to use this technology, and solar racing was it.
No one knows for sure who thought of it first, but it does seem it's a case of parallel invention. A new probe hit the market; the fast response repair RPR-52. Due to the requirements of the job, it was large (for a probe) and manoeuvrable... and thus after removing the repair equipment and replacing it with more life support (most repair probes carry at least some for safety reasons) as well as adding a makeshift control chair it was ready to race! These early racers for the most part required the pilot to be suited, but that just added to the thrill. It didn't take long for the early sailers to realise that what they had done wasn't enough; for maximum speed they would need to be closer to the local star, and for that much more modification would be needed.
At around this time disaster struck as the Talemi system star turned into a red giant. While this was predicted to a degree, moving an entire planetary population isn't easy. Most the remaining population had been in domes for decades due to the cooling sun, but food became difficult to grow, and expensive to import. However it was noted that tourism is increasing. At first it was thought that people were just coming to watch them suffer, but then it was found that most were here to ride the increased solar winds that a red giant provides. So as a desperate way to take advantage of a bad situation the Talemi government helped form the first Interstellar Solar Race, and allowed the usage of the planet Eden to form the largest port dedicated to Solar Racing.
A Solar Sailer race starts when the manned pilot pod is launched via a rail catapult. Then using onboard engines, they dock with the sails that are waiting. The docking is one of the most dangerous parts of the race as communication between racers is forbidden so more often than not two pilots are targeting the same sail. Even so, there is always more than twice the needed sails in orbit... it's just that only about half are close. The others take around 20 minutes to get to at launch speeds... or less if fuel is used. This isn't as big a penalty as it would seem as the races are normally 24 hour endurance races. The sails generally don't last that long so sail replacements are legal but that takes time. Re-fuelling is also legal... but that once again takes time.
With all these rules, one would expect that the pod requirements would be similar, but the only rules in regard to the pod are size and weight. It must be small enough to fit in the sail cradle, and light enough to be propelled via the official launch rail. This prevents excessive fuel storage forcing the pilot to use it sparingly, and beyond that there really is no need for further restrictions. Communication silence between pilots isn't hard to achieve either; the RF noise from the sun makes low power communication impossible, and anything more powerful would be easily detected. Thus most pilots use generic pods.
This is in many ways the attraction of solar racing. Extreme skill and extreme danger... what more could you ask for?
Last updated 23 Aug 09
Important note While I do a lot of research and try to be as realistic as possible, the "science" here is junk science at best. For the most part it's just for fun so please don't be quoting any of this as fact! Just the same, if you think I'm really wrong tell me via the Slog. Especially if you think I can change my "facts" to be more realisic without affecting the story.