Electromagnetic Forces on a Relativistic Spacecraft in the Interstellar Medium

Thiem Hoang, Abraham Loeb
2017 Astrophysical Journal  
A relativistic spacecraft of the type envisioned by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative will inevitably get charged through collisions with interstellar particles and UV photons. Interstellar magnetic fields would, therefore, deflect the trajectory of the spacecraft. We calculate the expected deflection for typical interstellar conditions. We also find that the charge distribution of the spacecraft is asymmetric, producing an electric dipole moment. The interaction between the moving electric
more » ... ipole and the interstellar magnetic field is found to produce a large torque, which can result in fast oscillation of the spacecraft around the axis perpendicular to the direction of motion, with a period of ∼ 0.5 hr. We then study the spacecraft rotation arising from impulsive torques by dust bombardment. Finally, we discuss the effect of the spacecraft rotation and suggest several methods to mitigate it.
doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aa8c73 fatcat:omux4qrqdzez5gyuih3gkbhsli