Researchers at RIT are testing new space travel technology for NASA.
A professor at the school says they’re working with solar sails. These large membranes are similar to the sails on a boat, but they’re covered in a reflective surface.
Light from the sun bounces off the sails and then pushes a vehicle through space. The professor we spoke to explained the benefit of solar sails over traditional rockets.
“So chemical rockets require you to lift the mass of the fuel itself,” says Professor Grover Swartzlander. “In this case, we have free energy basically from the sun so you can basically lift a much smaller package a smaller rocket into space. It’s cheaper that way, less environmentally disastrous and you can actually do missions that you can’t do with chemical rockets.”
The findings from the tests at RIT will be shared during a NASA exploratory meeting in Washington, D.C. this fall.