NASA-Supported Solar Sail Could Take Science to New Heights

Diffractive solar sails, depicted in this conceptual illustration, could enable missions to hard-to-reach places, like orbits over the Sun’s poles. (Image Credit: MacKenzi Martin)

WASHINGTON (NASA HQ PR) — As NASA’s exploration continues to push boundaries, a new solar sail concept selected by the agency for development toward a demonstration mission could carry science to new destinations.

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NanoAvionics and Gama to Set Sail in Space

Mission contract is NanoAvionics second solar sail mission following NASA ACS3  

VILNIUS, Lithuania, 24 May 2022 (NanoAvionics PR) – Gama, a French space startup, has contracted mission integrator NanoAvionics for a demonstration of Gama’s solar sails propulsion system in low Earth orbit (LEO). Under the mission agreement, NanoAvionics will provide its 6U nanosatellite bus, payload integration services, a satellite testing campaign, launch services and satellite operations. The launch of the “Alpha” nanosatellite is scheduled for the second half of this year.

Gama’s range of solar sails are aimed at commercial companies and research organisations looking for a cost-effective and less complex setup and propulsion system to explore deep space through small satellites. Using nano- or microsatellites propelled through space by solar sails would allow them to travel greater distances without requiring large amount of stored fuel. They can also be launched with smaller and cheaper rockets, making shuttle trips between planets less expensive and more practical than conventional chemical rockets.

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NASA’s New Solar Sail System to be Tested On-Board NanoAvionics Satellite Bus

COLUMBIA, Ill. (NanoAvionics PR) — NanoAvionics has been selected to build a 12U nanosatellite bus for an in-orbit demonstration of NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3). This a result of a contract between NASA Ames Research Center and AST for a 12U bus to carry NASA’s payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) including an approximately 800 square foot (74 square meter) composite boom and solar sail system.  

The aim of the ACS3 mission is to replace conventional rocket propellants by developing and testing solar sails using sunlight beams to thrust the nanosatellite. These solar sail propulsion systems are designed for future small interplanetary spacecrafts destined for low-cost deep-space and science missions requiring long-duration, low-thrust propulsion.  

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French Startup Gama Raises $2.2 Million to Develop Solar Sails

PARIS (Gama PR) — Gama, a French aerospace company, has raised 2 million euros [USD $2.2 million] with the French Public Investment Bank (BPI), the French Space Agency (CNES) and leading international angel investors to deploy a solar sail in space and revolutionize space transportation.

A solar sail allows a spacecraft to be powered solely by sunlight. This new propulsion technology enables speeds never reached before to explore our Solar System and beyond.

This first round of funding will finance a demonstration mission: the deployment of a solar sail from a satellite launched by SpaceX. Other missions will follow.

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Rocket Lab Selected to Provide Venture Class Launch Services for NASA

Electron launches from New Zealand on Dec. 9, 2021. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab among companies selected to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) missions, providing new opportunities for science and technology payloads and fostering a growing U.S. commercial launch market.

Long Beach, California. January 27, 2022 (Rockety Lab PR) – Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (“Rocket Lab” or the “Company”) (Nasdaq: RKLB), a leading launch provider and space systems company, has today announced that it has been selected by NASA as one of twelve companies to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) missions, providing new opportunities for science and technology payloads and fostering a growing U.S. commercial launch market. VADR is a five-year program with a maximum total budget of $300 million in launch contracts.

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NASA Solar Sail Mission to Chase Tiny Asteroid After Artemis I Launch

NEA Scout is composed of a small, shoebox-sized CubeSat (top left) and a thin, aluminum-coated solar sail about the size of a racquetball court (bottom left). After the spacecraft launches aboard Artemis I, the sail will use sunlight to propel the CubeSat to a small asteroid (as depicted in an illustration, right). (Credits: NASA)

NEA Scout will visit an asteroid estimated to be smaller than a school bus – the smallest asteroid ever to be studied by a spacecraft.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Launching with the Artemis I uncrewed test flight, NASA’s shoebox-size Near-Earth Asteroid Scout will chase down what will become the smallest asteroid ever to be visited by a spacecraft. It will get there by unfurling a solar sail to harness solar radiation for propulsion, making this the agency’s first deep space mission of its kind.

The target is 2020 GE, a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) that is less than 60 feet (18 meters) in size. Asteroids smaller than 330 feet (100 meters) across have never been explored up close before. The spacecraft will use its science camera to get a closer look, measuring the object’s size, shape, rotation, and surface properties while looking for any dust and debris that might surround 2020 GE.

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Blue Canyon Technologies Selected by Ball Aerospace to Provide Spacecraft Bus for NASA Solar Cruiser Program

LAFAYETTE, Colo., November 15, 2021 (Blue Canyon Technologies PR) –Small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies LLC (“BCT” or “Blue Canyon”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corporation (NYSE: RTX), was selected by Ball Aerospace to develop a standardized X-SAT Venus ESPA-class microsatellite bus and several custom components to enable an upcoming one-of-a-kind mission with NASA for the Solar Cruiser project.

As the largest planned solar sail to date, the 18,000 square-foot sail is a third the size of a football field. The Solar Cruiser: “Sailing on Sunlight” mission is being led by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center out of Huntsville, Alabama. Ball Aerospace will perform several mission-critical functions, including the integration and test of the satellite bus with the solar sail system that will form the completed “Sailcraft.”

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Rocket Lab Selected to Launch NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System on NanoAvionics’ 12U CubeSat. (Credit: NanoAvionics)

The Electron rocket will deploy an innovative satellite designed to test new deployable structures and materials technologies for solar sail propulsion systems, paving the way for sunlight to power future deep space exploration

LONG BEACH, Calif., October 6, 2021 (Rocket Lab PR) – Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a global leader in launch services and space systems, today announced it has been selected to launch NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, or ACS3, on the Electron launch vehicle.

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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.

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Setting Sail for Sustainable Space: Using Drag Sails to Deorbit Satellites

Deploying a drag sail. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Space is getting crowded. Old satellites, rocket bodies and fragments of both are leaving little space for new satellites to reside in that is free from debris.

The risk of collision with debris and even functioning satellites is increasing, especially in low-Earth orbit, putting many of Earth’s climate, ocean and land monitoring missions in harm’s way.

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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.

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DLR & NASA Develop Deployable Propulsion System for Satellites

Start of boom de­ploy­ment (Credit: DLR)
  • In a joint project with NASA, DLR successfully tested masts for deployable satellite structures in the aircraft hangar in Braunschweig.
  • The long-term goal of the cooperation is to test the developed expandable structures in space.
  • The first results will be presented at the 16th ECSSMET from March 23-25, 2021.

BRAUNSCHWEIG, Germany (DLR PR) — It took a large hangar to unfold the four ultra-lightweight booms, each made of carbon fibre-reinforced composites and 13.5 metres long, arranged in a cross shape. Researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) tested the booms twice in the aircraft hangar at the DLR site in Braunschweig. In cooperation with the US space agency NASA, the aim is to develop deployable satellite structures that will make low-cost, small satellites more powerful in the future with deployable, miniaturised structures for power supply, communications and propulsion.

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NASA Funds Research on Nuclear-powered Solar Sails to Quickly Explore Outer Planets

A nominal layout of a solar sail vehicle with a central payload and avionics unit, supported by a distributed APPLE power system with the number and area of units scaled to mission power need (not to scale). (Credits: E. Joseph Nemanick)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE)
E. Joseph Nemanick
The Aerospace Corporation
Santa Monica, Calif.

The Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE) is an enabling architecture for deep solar system missions on low mass, fast transit space platforms. We explore an alternative vehicle architecture that integrates a long-lived, peak power capable, rechargeable, and modular power system with solar sail propulsion, and examine the new missions this architecture enables.

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Ball Aerospace Selected to Integrate and Test Sailcraft for NASA Solar Propulsion Technology Demonstration

Solar Cruiser spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

BOULDER, Colo., Feb. 10, 2021 (Ball Aerospace PR) — Ball Aerospace has been selected to support Solar Cruiser, a NASA small satellite technology demonstration on the use of solar photons for propulsion in space. Ball will perform several mission-critical functions, including the integration and test of the satellite bus with the solar sail system that will form the completed “Sailcraft.”

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Redwire Selected to Develop Deployable Systems for NASA’s Solar Cruiser Mission

The technology demonstration mission will expand agile sailcraft technology and scientific discovery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., January 26, 2021 (Redwire PR) – Redwire, a new leader in mission critical space solutions and high reliability components for the next generation space economy, announced today that its subsidiary Roccor has been awarded a subcontract to support NASA’s Solar Cruiser technology demonstration mission funded through NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Roccor was selected by NASA to develop the deployable structure for a nearly 18,000 square foot (1,600 m2) solar sail that will allow solar scientists to view the sun from different perspectives—and stay in orbit longer—than before. 

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