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Due to various territorial rearrangements, in 2060, the largest seaport in the United States is Churchill, Manitoba. A much reduced but still significant volume of shipping needs to reach the country through the Arctic from the east or west. Accordingly, some effort has been put into keeping the ice melted or broken along the route.

To accomplish this goal, a fleet of statites has been launched - small cubesats that unfurl into big solar sails. These solar sails are not reflective, but absorb sunlight with high efficiency and use it to power near-infrared lasers, which they aim with great precision along the route. The statites have deployed themselves (via solar sailing) to positions where they can stay fixed in the sky due to the propulsion from the absorption and emission of light (probably fairly far out into space). Nonetheless they remain instantly maneuverable and capable of a communications network, so that for example they can begin melting fresh channels into moving ice to maintain a constant passage without having to heat all of the ice that moves past.

In terms of cost, I'm supposing that roughly double the area of statite is needed compared to the shipping route. If the NEA Scout with 85 m^2 of sail for what I infer could be little more than a cubesat launch cost of 100,000 USD (though that prototype cost much more), then I get that an 85 meter wide trade route is going to cost roughly 200,000 USD per meter. I don't know if you'd need to heat 2000 km or much more, and there's a peak pricing situation here where if some of the route can be neglected at any given time the cost would be much less. But it's something like a 400 billion USD price tag - not bad when you consider it doubles as a distributed orbital death ray when called for. If the sails can be made ten times thinner and the launch cost can be cut 10-fold with reusable space tourism rockets that attach to an orbiting space tether to make the last step into space, who knows, it may be cheaper than JWST.

Doable, or daydream?

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  • $\begingroup$ No. I guess your mirrors should be bigger and other things but it needs to dive in, and not the point. You haven't, probably, seen how fast that track in ice is closed after the icebreaker. Gaps 30-40 meters wide close itself in matter of minutes. Ice moves, due wind and other factors. You need something in between death star and SDI cold war laser which melts ice 100-150 meters ahead, 0.5-1.5m layer of ice. Or you scorch km's wide track - so yeah so so idea. As idea plot can be funny but reality of it is nil. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 1, 2021 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Not that idea can't be improved there at least 3 directions for that, which root is cheap energy from space. But it will require combination of ground installations space installations and maybe changes to ships. So yeah it may be part of less spectacular setup, if things are rigth. Or it has to be big, also an option $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 1, 2021 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ A fair amount of the power is going to reflect off the ice into the atmosphere. I think the climate activists might have a few words to say about it. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Aug 2, 2021 at 14:09

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If the constraint is merely "Doable," then the answer is yes, you have not broken any laws of physics that would make it fail a reality-check. Practical, ethical, sound, safe, cost-effective, or feasible; those things won't be given an advantage by this way. There are too many considerations to go into detail, and the question isn't about those things; but I recommend you do a simple calculation on the power density of the sun and how much power you would need to maneuver your satellite in this peculiar non-orbit. Solar sails are all the rage, but they push things around with only milli-Newtons of force. We sent a solar sail to Venus on IKAROS. Thrust force by the solar radiation pressure on IKAROS' 196 m$^2$ sail is 1.12 millinewtons. That was at Venus, and you want usable propulsion all the way out at earth. A sail 1/3 the size of the moon might give you the maneuvering power needed.

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