• The key, according to the Nankai University-based group, is in swapping out the mirrored sail—which captures photonic energy as radiation pressure in much the same way a regular air-sail captures wind energy—for a pure-black graphene sponge. Rather than reflect off of the sail, light is absorbed by the sponge, which converts that energy into propulsion.
  • Yongsheng Chen and his team discovered the light-based propulsive properties of bulk graphene somewhat by accident. "When cutting the graphene sponge by laser in air," the group writes, "we accidentally observed the laser-induced actuation by naked eyes, which contrasts sharply with the earlier reported microscopic levitation or movement of micro objects due to light pressure.
  • "While the propulsion energy/force is still smaller compared with conventional chemical rockets, it is already several orders larger than that from light pressure," the researchers conclude.

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