Sailing across space

On his way to meet Guru Sukracharya, Meghnath is amazed to learn and experience new ways of flying. And there’s a surprise in store...

Updated - August 23, 2021 12:25 pm IST

Published - August 23, 2021 12:22 pm IST

Ravana is amazed by Meghnath’s skill in building rockets out of sugar and potassium nitrate and realises that this may be because of his interaction with Lord Vishnu at Vaikuntam. He shares his amazement with Mayasura.

Ravana: Uncle, I had asked Meghnath to learn the secrets behind the world’s most powerful weapons from the three Gods — Shiva,Vishnu and Brahma, by praying to them. It seems like he has already achieved what took me years to do!

Mayasura: That’s wonderful! With his potential, he needs a good teacher. You should enroll him with our guru Sukracharya.

Ravana: That is a good idea! Let’s do that right away...

Guru Sukracharya lived on Venus. So, the three of them set off in the new flying machine, Vaihayasa, which was designed by Mayasura for King Bali and was capable of interstellar and interplanetary travel.

Meghnath: Grandpa, are we really going to outer space?! It’s the first time I will be crossing the ozone layer!

Mayasura: Though you didn’t travel physically, you travelled all the way to Vaikunta through your dedication and hard work. Guru Sukracharya is impressed.

Meghnath: What?! Guru Sukracharya! He trains only the strongest Asura warriors, right? Am I not too young to train under him?

Mayasura: Yes, but there is a surprise for you. Just wait for it.

As they continue talking, the aircraft crosses the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere and enters the Ionosphere. Mayasura jumps into the cockpit and presses a button. The wings open out and Meghanth sees a bunch of batteries and vacuum tubes lined inside. They start to glow.

Meghnath: What is happening, Daddy?

Ravana: This is a vehicle that uses a modern technology — electric propulsion and ion propulsion — to move.

Meghnath: How does that work?

Ravana: Till you cross the Karmen line — 100 km above the ground — the effect of gravity is greater. So, we need fuels like solid and liquid propellants. Once we travel beyond the pull of gravity, our vehicle becomes light. So, we need only a minimum push to propel our vehicle. This is achieved by using ion propulsion technology. Do you know what an ion is?

Meghanth: Yes. An ion is a particle — atom or molecule — with a net electrical charge. When we pull an electron out of it, the ion becomes a cation , gaining a positive charge. It becomes an anion when it gains one or more electrons, acquiring a negative charge. Because of their opposite electric charges, cations and anions attract each other.

Ravana: You are right. The same ions, when placed close to plates with an opposite charge, move swiftly towards the plates creating a wave of movement called Ionic wind, which is capable of thrusting a spacecraft forward.

Meghnath: Wow! So high-velocity ions are the space’s equivalents of high-velocity air on ground!

Ravana: Exactly! Some spacecraft use the Ion Thruster Engine to extract electrons out of atoms to ionise them using electricity.

By now, their aircraft has crossed 384,000 km, travelling beyond the moon. Suddenly, a huge square sheet pops out of the aircraft’s body. Both Meghnath and Ravana are awestruck!

Meghnath: What’s happening, Grandpa?

Ravana: I’ve never seen this before!

An artist's concept of solar sail in space.

An artist's concept of solar sail in space.

Mayasura: This is the new technology that I learnt from the future; from JAXA (the Japanese space agency). It is called a solar sail. This kite-shaped wing is made of 7.5 micrometer (0.00030 inch) thick sheet of polymide. One square meter of polymide sheet weighs only 10 gm. That means, the entire sail weighs only 2 kg.

Meghnath: What?! Such a huge object weighs only 2 kg?! But how does it work?

Mayasura: It is similar to a sail being blown by the wind, which helps the ship move. This sail uses a light exerting a force on the mirrors, like the sunlight. With this force, the sail spins 20-25 revolutions per minute, carrying our aircraft towards the destination.

The Vaihasaya moves closer to Venus, the realm of Sukracharya. Meghanth is amazed by its beauty. Venus looks like a polished crystal ball with a thick atmosphere over it. As they move closer, Meghanth sees something that makes his jaw drop!

Meghnath: Tripura!! The floating city!

Mayasura: Get ready to experience more magic, my boy...

The author is the founder and CEO of Vaayusastra Aerospace, an IIT-Madras incubated ed-tech startup that offers Air Science workshops for children between five and 14 years.

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