Images of the target planet could be transmitted by a 1Watt laser onboard the nanocraft, in a ‘burst mode’ which uses the energy storage unit to rapidly draw power for the power-intensive laser communications mode. Upon approach to the target, the sail would be used to focus the laser communication signal.
For a 4m sail, for example, the diffraction limit spot size on Earth would be on order of 1000m. A kilometer-scale receiving array would intercept 10-14 of the transmitted signal. The main challenge is to use the sail as diffraction limited optics for the laser communication system. This would be achieved by shaping the sail into a ‘Fresnel lens’ upon approach to the target. The sail structure could be different at the launch and communication phases. In order to maintain a high transmission through the Earth’s atmosphere, the communication would need to operate at a wavelength shorter than that used by the launch laser system, due to the Doppler shift of the nanocraft relative to the Earth.
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