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The Solar-Electric Sail accelerates by reflecting positively charged solar wind ions. If it is used to propel an interstellar migration mission, its interstellar cruise velocity relative to the home star cannot exceed the solar wind velocity. In an effort to analytically determine interstellar cruise velocity for a 107 kg generation ship, a constant solar wind velocity within the heliosphere of a Sun-like star of 600 km/s is assumed. The solar wind proton density at 1 AU is also considered constant at 10 protons per cubic centimeter. Solar wind density is assumed to decrease with the inverse square of solar distance. It is shown that, to maintain sufficient acceleration to achieve an interstellar cruise velocity about 70% of the solar wind velocity, the radius of the sail’s electric field is enormous—greater than 105 km. Because the solar wind velocity and density are not constant, field strength must be varied rapidly to compensate for solar wind variation. Although not competitive with the ultimate theoretical performance of solar-photon sail propelled migrations departing from Sun-like stars, the solar-electric sail might be superior in this application for migration from dim K and M main sequence stars. Such migrations conducted during close stellar encounters might have durations < 1000 terrestrial years. If only a tiny fraction of M dwarf stars host star-faring civilizations, a significant fraction of Milky Way galaxy planetary systems may have been inhabited, even if no major advances over currently postulated interstellar transportation systems are postulated. SETI theoreticians should consider this when estimating the effects of interstellar colonization.


Matloff, G.L. The Solar-Electric Sail: Application to Interstellar Migration and Consequences for SETI. Universe 2022, 8, 252. universe8050252.

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