Could flight of the bird propulsion power deep space travel

11 December 2022

It may be possible to construct deep space vessels capable of (eventually) reaching speeds equal to two percent of the speed of light:

Scientists have proposed a dazzling new mission to travel to the stars that is inspired by the elegant flights of seabirds, such as albatrosses, reports a new study. The interstellar concept mission would harness shifting winds generated by the Sun in order to accelerate a spacecraft to as much as 2 percent the speed of light within two years, allowing it to soar into the vast expanse beyond our solar system.

But two percent the speed of light, a velocity that would take some time to attain anyway, isn’t all that speedy considering the vast distances between celestial objects, such as the Sun, and the nearest star to us, Proxima Centauri.

If we round off the speed of light at 300,000 kilometres (km) per second, two percent of that is six thousand km per second. That’s 360,000 km per minute, and 21,600,000 km per hour. 518,400,000 km per day. If my maths is on spec — not always guaranteed — the journey to Proxima Centauri, some 40,208,000,000,000 km distant, would take 77,561 days, or about 213 years.

On the other hand, if Pluto is an average of 5,300,000,000 km from Earth — sometimes it is closer, sometimes more distant — it would take about ten days to travel there. Assuming such speeds could be attained at relatively close proximity to the Sun, that is. This method of deep space travel seems reasonable for reaching points in and near the solar system, but might be out of the question for interstellar voyages carrying people.