On the July 21 club meeting, we will have a guest speaker, Dr. Mason Peck. He will give a presentation on: The recent STS 134 Space Shuttle mission carried a very tiny payload to the International Space Station: three spacecraft-on-a-chip prototypes called Sprites. They use about 1 square centimeter of solar cells to power a microprocessor and radio that communicate with an inexpensive HAM antenna on earth. The point of this experiment is to demonstrate that one can build a spacecraft the size of a coin, one that might weigh at most 50 mg (about the mass of an aspirin). If the Sprite project is successful, we could see an entirely new generation of spacecraft: trivially cheap to launch into earth orbit, capable of measuring the physics pf large-scale phenomena such as solar storms, and even able to travel to distant locations without propellant. This last feature may be surprising, but it's the result of small-scale physics. Solar pressure--photons from the sun--are enough to push Sprites around the solar system. Sprites can also use the earth's magnetic field for propulsion. But what would really change the game is to shoot these little explorers out of a particle accelerator, giving them a velocity approaching the speed of light. Dr. Peck will describe this project and will bring some hardware to pass around. He is also looking for new ideas: what would be an effective way of getting Sprites into space without resorting to a large launch vehicle?
You can find more about Sprite spacecraft here - includes links to research papers, dang, login required ;(