Solar Sail Advancements Aim to Unlock Deep Space Exploration

Two new solar sail mission concepts will assess spacecraft communications and power requirements and explore the design of higher fidelity sail control systems to ensure precise navigation around the Sun and interstellar locations. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

New concepts could expand human exploration of the deepest parts of the solar system faster than ever before.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — Space exploration remains a herculean effort due to the immense challenges imposed by time and distance. While missions to near-Earth objects have been successfully accomplished using traditional means of propulsion, the outermost planets in our solar system are 2 to 3.7 billion miles from the Sun. Reaching them within any reasonable time frame requires propulsion systems that exceed the capabilities of conventional propulsion methods.


NASA Funds Breakthrough Research into Extreme Solar Sailing for Interstellar Missions

Credit: Artur Davoyan

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Artur Davoyan
University of California, Los Angeles

As of date, deep space exploration has been hindered by the limitations of existing propulsion technologies. In contrast, solar sails appear to allow a low cost pathway to high speed and ubiquitous exploration of the outer solar system and interstellar space. By performing a slingshot maneuver in the vicinity of the sun, just ~2-5 solar radii distant from the sun, solar sails can propel light-weight CubeSat class spacecraft to near-relativistic speeds, >0.1% of the speed of light (>300 km/s or >60AU/year characteristic velocities). Such a technology would markedly transform space exploration, enabling fast missions to distant worlds, effectively turning our sun into a launch pad.