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  1. The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative aims to send a gram-scale probe to our nearest extrasolar neighbors using a laser-accelerated lightsail traveling at relativistic speeds. Thermal management is a key lightsail design objective because of the intense laser powers required but has generally been considered secondary to accelerative performance. Here, we demonstrate nanophotonic photonic crystal slab reflectors composed of 2H-phase molybdenum disulfide and crystalline silicon nitride, highlight the inverse relationship between the thermal band extinction coefficient and the lightsail’s maximum temperature, and examine the trade-off between minimizing acceleration distance and setting realistic sail thermal limits, ultimately realizing a thermally endurable acceleration minimum distance of 23.3 Gm. We additionally demonstrate multiscale photonic structures featuring thermal-wavelength-scale Mie resonant geometries and characterize their broadband Mie resonance-driven emissivity enhancement and acceleration distance reduction. More broadly, our results highlight new possibilities for simultaneously controlling optical and thermal response over broad wavelength ranges in ultralight nanophotonic structures.
  2. We report light-driven levitation of macroscopic polymer films with nanostructured surface as candidates for long-duration near-space flight. We levitated centimeter-scale disks made of commercial 0.5-micron-thick mylar film coated with carbon nanotubes on one side. When illuminated with light intensity comparable to natural sunlight, the polymer disk heats up and interacts with incident gas molecules differently on the top and bottom sides, producing a net recoil force. We observed the levitation of 6-mm-diameter disks in a vacuum chamber at pressures between 10 and 30 Pa. Moreover, we controlled the flight of the disks using a shaped light field that optically trapped the levitating disks. Our experimentally validated theoretical model predicts that the lift forces can be many times the weight of the films, allowing payloads of up to 10 milligrams for sunlight-powered low-cost microflyers at altitudes of 50 to 100 km.
  3. Crookes radiometers have been the subject of numerous theoretical, numerical, and experimental studies because of the complicated forces they exhibit as well as their potential applications to light sensing and actuation. The majority of these studies have focused on classical radiometers, which function under low vacuum pressures. In contrast, here we report a radiometer with microengineered vanes that rotates at atmospheric pressure. Its functionality at pressures thousands of times higher than previous light mills is due to unique attributes of the nanocardboard that forms its vanes: 1) the extremely low areal density (0.1 mg/cm 2 ) of nanocardboard reduces the vane masses by two orders of magnitude; 2) its lower thermal conductivity allows a greater cross-vane temperature difference; and 3) its microchannels dramatically increase the thermal transpiration flow that drives the rotation. Intriguingly, the experimentally observed rotation speeds are substantially higher than those theoretically expected. Our device demonstrates new possibilities for micromanipulation, propulsion of aerial vehicles, and light-powered generators.