Dust Grain Damage to Interstellar Vehicles and Lightsails

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J. T. Early et al. (2015), JBIS, 68, pp.205-210

Refcode: 2015.68.205
Keywords: Interstellar travel, particle bombardment

Interstellar vehicles with velocities around 0.1c will undergo high-energy collisions with small (1 Ám) dust grains in the interstellar environment. Lightsails pushed by laser beams to velocities around 0.1c have been proposed as propulsion systems for interstellar travel. For a very thin beryllium sail, the grains pass through the sail with only 10-4 of the energy coupled into the sail. The resulting damaged area is not significantly larger than the cross section of the dust grain. Only a small fraction (10-6-10-4) of the sail will be destroyed by these 1 Ám sized grains during the sail acceleration. For thick sails or larger grains, the damage can be more significant. Similar thin shields can also provide protection for interstellar vehicles against impacts by completely ionizing these dust particles as well as any neutral interstellar gas atoms. The resulting ions can then be deflected.

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