Of course, that also means the craft would require 7,000 years to reach the nearest star - but that's if the sails depended on current technology. Matloff believes a 50-nanometer beryllium sail, built in space, could potentially make an interstellar voyage in as little as 2,000 years. Go lighter than that, via perforated sails or lighter metamaterials, and potential speeds increase.
"There are materials coming online like carbon nanotubes and graphenes, and these may allow you to cut the mass of the sail even more," Matloff says. "So, I think we'll be able to do to a lot better than 2,000 years to the nearest star. Will we get below 1,000 years? Maybe. Will we get down to a couple hundred? Well then I have my doubts, but that's my own personal feeling."
Ride the Cosmic Laser
Sailing on the sun's solar wind certainly comes with its share of limitations. After all, a solar sail craft would have to start off very close to the sun to achieve its momentum and would experience decreased push the farther it traveled from the star.