NIAC Phase II Award: Diffractive Lightsails

Diffractive lightsails (Credit: Grover Swartzlander)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase II Award: Up to $500,000 for 2 Years

Diffractive Lightsails
Grover Swartzlander
Rochester Institute of Technology

Solar sails are propelled by the free and abundant momentum afforded by sunlight. Propulsion and navigation are achieved by directing reflected or transmitted light away from the natural direction of sunlight. The magnitude and direction of this radiation pressure force depends on factors such as the light deflection angle, the angle of the sail with respect to the sun, and the distance from the sun. Sail areas spanning hundreds of square meters have been envisioned for nearly 100 years for a wide range of space missions that are not practical for chemical rockets.


Rocket Lab Sets Launch Window for First Electron Flight

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Huntington Beach, Calif., Friday 25 May 2018 (Rocket Lab PR)  — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has today confirmed the new launch window for the upcoming ‘It’s Business Time’ mission. The 14-day launch window will open from 23 June to 6 July (NZST), with launch opportunities between 12:30 – 16:30 NZST daily (00:30 – 04:30 UTC).


Planetary Society Regains Contact With LightSail

The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Ca., May 30, 2015 (Planetary Society PR) — After a successful launch into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft went silent after two days of communications. The solar sailing spacecraft test mission, a precursor to a 2016 mission, has now resumed contact after a suspected software glitch affected communications. The LightSail team will soon determine when to attempt deployment of the spacecraft’s Mylar® solar sails.

Bill Nye (The Science Guy), CEO at The Planetary Society, issued the following statement:

“Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails— and we’ll make those decisions very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good.”

For in-depth coverage of LightSail’s test and 2016 missions, follow embedded reporter, Jason Davis at

Mike Griffin Defends His NASA Legacy

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin

This week in The Space Review….

Griffin’s critique of NASA’s new direction
Mike Griffin spent nearly four years in charge of NASA building up an exploration architecture that the administration now wants to dismantle in favor of a new approach to human space exploration. Jeff Foust reports on what Griffin said about that new direction, and what is a “real” space program, in a speech last week.

A milestone for solar sailing
In June Japan’s IKAROS spacecraft because the first to successfully deploy a solar sail in orbit, a long-awaited achievement for the small community of solar sailing exports. Kieran Carroll provides an overview of that achievement and the current state of solar sailing as discussed at a recent conference.

Public interest in space, by the numbers
It’s challenging enough to measure the popularity of sports; is it possible to do the same with space? Drew Hagquist examines some metrics that can try to quantify public support for spaceflight.

Review: The Big Questions: The Universe
Astronomy is the subject some of the biggest and most fundamental questions about out existence. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines some of these big questions, including both those that have been resolved and those still unanswered.

Finnish Group Developing Electric Solar Wind Sail

Researchers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute have made significant progress on developing a potentially revolutionary electric solar wind sail, Next Big Future reports. The sail consists of long metallic tethers and a solar-powered electron gun used to keep the tethers positively charged. The solar wind exerts a continuous thrust on the spacecraft and tethers.

“The electric sail is an extremely promising new propulsion technique which is nearly ready to be tested. If electron heating turns out to be successful performance may be increased even more. Costs for solar system missions will go down and new capabilities and performance will be possible.”