De-Classic-Space De-Classic-Space

Sun Jammer II

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Solar sailing! The idea of a space craft that is powered by the light pressure and particles ejected from the sun ('solar winds') is one that I've found fascinating for about 20 years. (More on that later, and no I'm not old.) There's a great write up on the science here so there's no need to take my word on the believability of the idea. Unfortunately the concept has only been tested in reality land to a limited degree; for example Mariner 10 (sent to Mercury and Venus) used the method for some attitude control to reduce fuel usage. A recent attempt to launch a small sailer was un-successful as the booster failed. Much of the problem is that to get maximum speed you need to go as close to the sun as possible. This makes the density of the particles increase (as does the solar winds), but this also increases the danger and reduces the potential application of the technology. In the near future I can see solar sailing being used for probes, but anything more I doubt I'll live to see.


For some time solar racing has seemed to me as a very possible application of the method. I think it'd be an interesting sport and full of danger; what more could you want? I made this one as part the first De-Classic-Space comic. Will it re-appear? Not telling...! Incidentally, the fishing line I used to suspend the model is obvious in this shot.

As you can see from the raw photos, the sail covering was an effect I did (using a program called GIMP), and not bricks. I did consider several options when making the covering; plastic food wrap, old LEGO packets, loads and loads of transparent parts... but ultimately since I was making this for the comic doing it as an effect made more sense. Also, if I brick built it there would have been too much weight, forcing me to strengthen up the struts. That would have ruined the look I was going for and/or made the photo taking much harder. Technically I'm partially wrong here; the sails probably should be reflective for maximum efficiency. In my defense, it's quite possible that the solar winds would be the bigger driving force this close to the sun, and thus picking a stronger material could be smarter.


I also liked the idea of a moving sail. My concept for the use of this feature is that close to the sun they would be sideways most of the time for safe acceleration as well as pilot shielding, but for maximum speed when departing the suns orbit they'd go forward. Feel free to pick on my idea...

Ahhghh! It's broken! Who did it? Oh, it was me. The cradle was deliberately coloured red; I actually made it in black but I re-built it in red for pilot visibility reasons. The pod can get in and out of the cradle without breaking it.


The pod itself. Technically this is the 'space-craft' as the sails are comparable to a battery in an electric car. They'd obviously wear out fast considering their usage. The name itself is a 'homage' to a solar sailer in a short story by Arthur C. Clarke.

The pods need an engine and thrusters to get to the sails and back to the start, as well as manoeuvre during the race. I have a overly verbose write-up here for any who are curious of the race format.


Yes, this is my 'inspiration'; a book I read as a teenager. There are some similarities in basic design, but looking at the background racer, their sail seems much bigger. It's actually a quite good book; Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson did a lot of good gamebooks in the 80s. (Anyone else read them?) I'd like to claim that I based this off an old Clarke story... but it wouldn't be true. I didn't read the story until later.

Because it needed to be functional to a degree, I built the sailer in an interesting way. First I built a cradle concept, then I built a pod concept, then I built the full sail. At the end of building the sail I just couldn't get the original pod concept to work, so I started again. This is the original design, the front being to the right.

The final pod ended up being slightly higher and a lot wider at the bottom. This did ruin my original concept a bit as I wanted the pods to be able to enter the sail in the back and exit via the front. I'm not sure if I'll take this pod design any further; it'll probably fall in the sorting bin soon! On the other hand if I ever do an actual race it could be handy...

Last updated 2 Sep 09

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