24/7 Space News
SPACE TRAVEL
NASA Solar Sail Technology Passes Crucial Deployment Test
Some of the missions of interest using solar sail technology include studying space weather and its effects on the Earth, or for advanced studies of the north and south poles of the Sun.
ADVERTISEMENT
     
NASA Solar Sail Technology Passes Crucial Deployment Test
by Wayne Smith for NASA News
Longmont CO (SPX) Feb 13, 2024

In his youth, NASA technologist Les Johnson was riveted by the 1974 novel "The Mote in God's Eye," by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, in which an alien spacecraft propelled by solar sails visits humanity. Today, Johnson and a NASA team are preparing to test a similar technology.

NASA continues to unfurl plans for solar sail technology as a promising method of deep space transportation. The agency cleared a key technology milestone in January with the successful deployment of one of four identical solar sail quadrants. The deployment was showcased Jan. 30 at Redwire Corp.'s new facility in Longmont, Colorado.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, leads the solar sail team, comprised of prime contractor Redwire, which developed the deployment mechanisms and the nearly 100-foot-long booms, and subcontractor NeXolve, of Huntsville, which provided the sail membrane. In addition to leading the project, Marshall developed the algorithms needed to control and navigate with the sail when it flies in space.

The sail is a propulsion system powered by sunlight reflecting from the sail, much like a sailboat reflects the wind. While just one quarter of the sail was unfurled in the deployment at Redwire, the complete sail will measure 17,780 square feet when fully deployed, with the thickness less than a human hair at 2 and a half microns. The sail is made of a polymer material coated with aluminum.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate recently funded the solar sail technology to reach a new technology readiness level, or TRL 6, which means it's ready for proposals to be flown on science missions.

"This was a major last step on the ground before it's ready to be proposed for space missions," Johnson, who has been involved with sail technology at Marshall for about 25 years, said. "What's next is for scientists to propose the use of solar sails in their missions. We've met our goal and demonstrated that we're ready to be flown."

A solar sail traveling through deep space provides many potential benefits to missions using the technology because it doesn't require any fuel, allowing very high propulsive performance with very little mass. This in-space propulsion system is well suited for low-mass missions in novel orbits.

"Once you get away from Earth's gravity and into space, what is important is efficiency and enough thrust to travel from one position to another," Johnson said.

Some of the missions of interest using solar sail technology include studying space weather and its effects on the Earth, or for advanced studies of the north and south poles of the Sun. The latter has been limited because the propulsion required to get a spacecraft into a polar orbit around the sun is very high and simply not feasible using most of the propulsion systems available today. Solar sail propulsion is also possible for enhancing future missions to Venus or Mercury, given their closeness to the Sun and the enhanced thrust a solar sail would achieve in the more intense sunlight there.

Moreover, it's the ultimate green propulsion system, Johnson said - as long as the Sun is shining, the sail will have propulsion. Where the sunlight is less, he envisions a future where lasers could be used to accelerate the solar sails to high speeds, pushing them outside the solar system and beyond, perhaps even to another star.

"In the future, we might place big lasers in space that shine their beams on the sails as they depart the solar system, accelerating them to higher and higher speeds, until eventually they are going fast enough to reach another star in a reasonable amount of time."

Video: NASA Solar Sail Technology Passes Crucial Deployment Test

Related Links
NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate
Redwire
Space Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

RELATED CONTENT
The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
SPACE TRAVEL
Setting sail for safer space
Paris (ESA) Feb 03, 2023
The camera view from a satellite after it unfurled a sail like a ship of old - although its purpose was not to start a journey but only hasten its fall back to Earth. The Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System Nano (ADEO-N) - a 3.6-sq-m aluminium-coated polyamide membrane attached to four metallic booms - deployed from a 10 cm box aboard the ION Satellite Carrier. Launched in 2021, this is a satellite platform flown by D-ORBIT in Italy, used to deliver miniature 'CubeSats' into their individual orbit ... read more

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
SPACE TRAVEL
NASA Solar Sail Technology Passes Crucial Deployment Test

Virgin Galactic Marks 11th Spaceflight with Full Passenger Manifest

Starlab Space unveils leadership team to propel space exploration ventures

Collins Aerospace Advances Next-Gen Spacesuit for ISS in Milestone Test

SPACE TRAVEL
MITRE and MDC team up to advance at Midland Spaceport

Japan postpones next-gen rocket launch over weather

SpaceX Expands Global Internet Coverage with 22 New Starlink Satellites

Dream Chaser Spaceplane Undergoes Extreme Testing at NASA's Armstrong Facility

SPACE TRAVEL
Confirmation of ancient lake on Mars builds excitement for Perseverance rover's samples

NASA helicopter's mission ends after three years on Mars

New Year, New images from Perseverance on Mars

Polka Dots and Sunbeams: Sol 4078

SPACE TRAVEL
BIT advances microbiological research on Chinese Space Station

Shenzhou 18 and 19 crews undertake intensive training for next missions

Space Pioneer and LandSpace Lead China's Private Sector to New Heights in Space

Tianzhou 6 burns up safely reentering Earth

SPACE TRAVEL
Into the Starfield

Sidus ships LizzieSat to Vandenberg for upcoming SpaceX launch

Next-generation satellite systems propel shift in capacity pricing and industry dynamics

Apollo to Artemis: Why America is betting big on private space

SPACE TRAVEL
Four Xbox exclusives heading to rivals in big shift

DLR develops mobile station for Satellite Laser Ranging

Benchtop test quickly identifies extremely impact-resistant materials

Ubisoft launches long-awaited 'Skull and Bones' video game

SPACE TRAVEL
UC Irvine-led team unravels mysteries of planet formation and evolution in distant solar system

NASA's Hubble Finds Water Vapor in Small Exoplanet's Atmosphere

Carbon Monoxide Dynamics Offer New Insights into Exoplanet Habitability

What Kind of World is LHS 1140b

SPACE TRAVEL
NASA invites public to dive into Juno's Spectacular Images of Io

Europa Clipper gears up with full instrument suite onboard

New images reveal what Neptune and Uranus really look like

Researchers reveal true colors of Neptune, Uranus

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


ADVERTISEMENT



The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - 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. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. 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. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.