NASA's Solar Sail Propulsion Team and industry partners have successfully deployed two 10-meter solar sails in a vacuum environment - a critical milestone in development of the unique propulsion technology that could enable future deep space missions. Solar sail propulsion uses the Sun's energy to travel through space. The work is led by the In-Space Propulsion Technology Projects Office at the Marshall Center.
NASA engineers and their industry partners have successfully deployed two solar sails - each nearly 33 feet in length along one side - reaching a critical milestone in the development of a unique propulsion technology that could enable future deep space missions.
Solar sail propulsion uses the Sun's energy to travel through space, much the way wind pushes sailboats across water. The technology bounces a stream of solar energy particles called photons off giant, reflective sails made of lightweight material 40 to 100 times thinner than a piece of writing paper.
The continuous pressure provides sufficient thrust to perform maneuvers, such as hovering at a point in space and rotating the space vehicle's plane of orbit, which would require too much propellant for conventional rocket systems.
Because the Sun provides the necessary propulsive energy, solar sails also require no onboard propellant, thus reducing payload mass.
In July, L'Garde, of Tustin, Calif., successfully deployed a solar sail technology system. Earlier this year, Able Engineering of Goleta, Calif., successfully completed testing of its own solar sail design.
The work of both contractors is led by the In-Space Propulsion Technology Projects Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"We are making the stuff of science fiction into reality," said Les Johnson, manager of the In-Space Propulsion Technology Projects Office at the Marshall Center. "It has been a tremendous engineering challenge, and I'm pleased and proud of the teams that have made it happen."
L'Garde's sail deployment was conducted in a 100-foot-diameter vacuum chamber at NASA's Glenn Research Center Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. The tests included temperatures as cold as minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate the conditions of open space.
The sail technology used an inflatable, thermally rigidized boom system, which inflates and becomes stiff in space environment conditions.
The boom is the core of the support structure for the thin, reflective solar sail itself - merely a fraction of the thickness of a human hair - and includes a stowage structure and built-in deployment mechanism. Engineers used a computer-controlled boom pressurization system to initiate deployment of the boom and sail system.
In May, Able Engineering also successfully completed testing of a solar sail design at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. This sail employed a "coilable" graphite boom, which is extended or uncoiled via remote control - much the way a screw is rotated to remove it from an object.
The boom supports the lightweight sail, which is made of an aluminized, temperature-resistant material called CP-1. Named NASA's 1999 Invention of the Year, CP-1 was invented by the Langley Research Center and is produced under exclusive license by SRS Technologies of Huntsville.
The boom system also includes a central stowage structure and deployment mechanism.
Tests of the coilable boom were conducted in a 50-foot-diameter vacuum chamber. Engineers remotely initiated deployment of the boom and sail in April, then spent the next five weeks studying its shape and system dynamics - or how the solar sail functions in relation to force, weight and tension.
Data from both tests will be used to make improvements to future solar sail design and modeling. In March 2005, NASA plans a laboratory deployment of a sail more than 65 feet in length.
Solar sail technology was selected for development in August 2002 by NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington.
Along with the sail system design projects by L'Garde and Able Engineering, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was tapped to develop an integrated set of computer-based solar sail simulation tools.
These are just three of a number of efforts undertaken by NASA Centers, industry and academia to develop solar sail technology.
In-Space Propulsion at NASA
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express
Complexity Delays Solar Sail Project
Pasadena - Oct 17, 2003
We have decided to delay the launch of Cosmos 1, our solar sail, from October 2003 until 2004. Despite a summer of generally good test results on hardware and software, the team is taking extra time to test as many operations as possible. The Cosmos 1 spacecraft has become much more complex than we originally planned, and the test program is proceeding slowly and methodically. We will not rush or take any risky shortcuts.
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|