'Graphene Sponge' Paves Way For Propulsion System In Solar Spacecrafts

The amazing properties of Graphene have been astonishing us all for quite some time now. Researchers are working hard on realizing the special material’s true potential.

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Graphene Sponge, a moist soft material made by fusing together crumpled sheets of graphene oxide, could be the next game-changer for building a solar spacecraft that doesn’t need fuel to run. The strong conductor of heat and electricity, Graphene has a flat structure. To optimally use the intrinsic properties of single layer graphene in a bulk material has been a real challenge for scientists because re-stacking of graphene sheets reduces most of those properties. To tackle this, the Chinese researchers showed how on properly assembling the sheets, the properties can remain unhurt.

The centimeter long graphene sponge material which has only a milligram weight was made to undergo an efficient light-induced ejected electron emission process, The force generated from such a mechanism is much larger than the one from the conventional light pressure. In a series of experiments, the team found that on focusing ordinary sunlight/laser on pieces of graphene sponge placed in vacuum using a lens, it could be moved upwards by as much as 40 cms. They even got the graphene to move by focusing ordinary sunlight on it with a lens.

Photons can transfer momentum to an object and propel it forwards. The researchers believe that this small effect in the vacuum of space has the potential to build up enough thrust that can move a spacecraft. In their tests, they found that electric current was flowing away from the graphene sponge as it was exposed to a laser.

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Although solar propulsion systems are efficient, they suffer from being too slow and need a neighbouring star to provide light energy. Traversing interstellar distances would require complex mechanism to achieve the desired flight path. With the freedom to move using sunlight without the need for fuel, if their efforts are completely successful, in the future, Graphene Sponge could beat solar sails to make a light-powered propulsion system for spacecrafts.

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