2013 Starship Congress Speaker Announcement – Les Johnson: Current Status of Solar Sail Propulsion: Sneaking up on an Interstellar Capability

Science and science fiction writer Les Johnson has been announced as a speaker for Icarus Interstellar’s 2013 Starship Congress, with the following talk: “Current Status of Solar Sail Propulsion: Sneaking up on an Interstellar Capability.”

Les writes science fiction for Baen Books and popular science for Springer Books.  His most recently-edited anthology, Going Interstellar, is a collection of original stories by award winning writers on the theme of interstellar travel and easily-accessible essays describing the science behind the science fiction.  Les is the Chair, TN Valley Interstellar Workshop and Deputy Manager for NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  In the early 2000’s, Les was NASA’s Manager for Interstellar Propulsion Research and later managed the In-Space Propulsion Technology Program.  He is the chair of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop and is Guest Editor for an upcoming issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society dedicated to this year’s interstellar workshop.

He was the technical consultant for the movies, Lost in Space and the soon-to-be released Europa Report.  NPR, CNN, Fox News, The Science Channel and The Discovery Channel have all interviewed him about space and space exploration.  Most recently, he appeared on the National Geographic Channel’s Evacuate Earth and was a featured explorer in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine.

Les is the co-investigator on multiple advanced propulsion experiments for NASA.  He was the Chief Scientist for the ProSEDS space experiment, twice received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal, and holds 3 space technology patents.  He has numerous peer-reviewed publications and was published in Analog.  He is a frequent contributor to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and a member of the National Space Society, The British Interplanetary Society, The World Future Society, and MENSA.

Following is the abstract for Les Johnson’s talk Current Status of Solar Sail Propulsion: Sneaking up on an Interstellar Capability:

Solar Sail propulsion has been validated in space (IKAROS, 2010) and several more solar-sail propelled spacecraft will soon be flown. Solar sails reflect sunlight to achieve thrust, thus eliminating the need for costly and often very-heavy fuel. Such “propellantless” propulsion will enable whole new classes of space science and exploration missions previously not considered possible due to the propulsive-intense maneuvers and operations required. Solar Sail Propulsion (SSP) is an enabling technology for interstellar missions and their precursors, capable of providing rapid trip times and potentially allowing 250 – 1000 AU interstellar precursor missions to be launched within the next quarter century. SSP is a high-priority new technology within The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and several potential future space missions have been identified that will require it. Small and mid-sized technology demonstration missions using solar sails have flown or will soon fly in space. Multiple mission concept studies have been performed to determine the system level SSP requirements for their implementation and, subsequently, to drive the content of relevant technology programs. The status of SSP technology and potential future missions, and their relevance to future interstellar missions will be described.