NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration
University of California, Los Angeles
Understanding the beginnings of the Universe and life itself is NASA’s long term vision and one of humanities’ grand challenges. Missions to the edge of our solar system and to space between stars in our galaxy – the interstellar medium – are of a great promise to shed light on these questions.
However, today’s deep space exploration is hindered by fundamental limitations of current propulsion technology, resulting in missions that take decades of development, years of flight and cost billions.
Extreme metamaterial solar sails as proposed here have the potential to shift the paradigm of space exploration enabling numerous low cost and high speed missions to be launched anytime and anywhere.
Such sails could gain accelerations >60AU/yr when coupled to low mass spacecraft and dive to extreme proximity to the sun (just 2-5 solar radii). This velocity is 20 times more than Voyager 1.
This NIAC challenges the limits of materials, paving the way for development of high endurance ultrathin film architectures that can handle extreme environments manifested by solar radiation and plasma in addition to providing spacecraft control.
Our technology enables reaching Jupiter in 5 months, Neptune in 10, surpassing Voyager 1 in 2.5 years and getting to the solar gravity lens location in just 8.5 years.