NASA Tests Solar Sail for CubeSat that Will Study Near-Earth Asteroids

The NEA Scout solar sail is deployed at the NeXolve facility in Huntsville, Alabama. (Credits: NASA/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a small satellite designed to study asteroids close to Earth, performed a successful deployment test June 28 of the solar sail that will launch on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The test was performed in an indoor clean room at the NeXolve facility in Huntsville, Alabama.

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NIAC Phase I Awards for Advanced Propulsion

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at three Phase I awards focused on advanced propulsion.

PROCSIMA: Diffractionless Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions
Chris Limbach
Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station

Advanced Diffractive MetaFilm Sailcraft
Grover Swartzlander
Rochester Institute of Technology

Radioisotope Positron Propulsion
Ryan Weed
Positron Dynamics

Each award is worth up to $125,000 for a nine-month study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid CubeSat Goes Full Sail

When fully deployed, NEA Scout’s solar sail is the length of a school bus. This sail is used to reflect sunlight to use as propulsion for the satellite as it moves through space, minimizing the need for fuel and paving the way for deep-space exploration missions. (Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.  (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a small satellite the size of a shoebox, designed to study asteroids close to Earth, performed a full-scale solar sail deployment test at ManTech NeXolve’s facility in Huntsville, Alabama, Sept. 13. The test was performed in an indoor clean room to ensure the deployment mechanism’s functionality after recent environmental testing.

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NASA Looks to Commercialize Solar Sail Technology

A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)
A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)

NASA CubeSat-Scale Solar Sail for Space Propulsion
Solicitation Number: NNM16042116
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office: Marshall Space Flight Center
Location: Office of Procurement

Introduction

A cubesat-scale solar sail propulsion system is being developed at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to provide propulsion for a 6U interplanetary CubeSat to be used for the Near Earth Asteroid Scout (NEAS) project. NASA MSFC desires for the solar sail technology and design being developed for the NEAS mission to be commercially available after the completion and delivery of the flight system hardware in 2018. To further that goal, NASA MSFC seeks to provide the solar sail propulsion system design to interested commercial entities. It is anticipated that there may be follow-on missions using the NEA Scout sail system following successful completion of the NEA Scout project.

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Watch NEA Scout Solar Sail Unfold

Video Caption: In this time lapse, the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) CubeSat team rolls a half-scale prototype of the small satellite’s solar sail in preparation for a deployment test. During its mission, NEA Scout will perform an approximate two-year cruise propelled by the solar sail to a target asteroid. A camera on the CubeSat will capture a series of low (50 cm/pixels) and high resolution (10 cm/pixels) images to determine global shape, spin rate, pole position, regional morphology, regolith properties, spectral class, and for local environment characterization.

LightSail Deploys Solar Sail

PASADENA, Calif., June 7, 2015 (Planetary Society PR) — After 19 days on orbit, data indicate that The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft deployed its Mylar® solar sail in space. More information will be downloaded, analyzed and publicized in days to come, including possible images. A post-deployment press conference will occur following an initial data analysis period.

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LightSail Falls Silent Again as Battery Problem Suspected

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)

UPDATE: Ground controllers have received data packets from the satellite. They’re now analyzing them and planning their next move, which could be deployment of the solar sail.

It’s not looking good again for The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft. After losing communications with the ground and then regaining it, the experimental CubeSat again fell silent after what appeared to be the successful deployment of its solar panels.

In an e-mail summary sent this afternoon, mission manager David Spencer said before contact was lost, LightSail’s batteries did not appear to be drawing current from the solar arrays; nor were they properly shunting power to the spacecraft’s subsystems.

“Following solar panel deployment,” he wrote, “it was noticed that all of the battery cells were drawing near zero current. This indicated that the batteries were likely in a fault condition stemming from the solar panel deployment event.”

Unless controllers can get the spacecraft online, it will not be possible to deploy the spacecraft’s solar sail.

ESA Exploring Ways to Remove Spacecraft From Orbit

Four-quadrant solar sail attached to Earth-orbiting satellite, which could speed up the deorbiting process for future missions. (Credit: NASA)
Four-quadrant solar sail attached to Earth-orbiting satellite, which could speed up the deorbiting process for future missions. (Credit: NASA)

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — It takes a lot of ingenuity – not to mention a massive quantity of sheer force – to get satellites into orbit. Now space engineers are applying comparable ingenuity to the challenge of getting their missions out of there, too.

ESA, working closely with Europe’s satellite builders, will ask industry for new designs to help remove satellites from orbit at the end of their working lives, as well as ‘passivating’ them – making them safer for neighbouring missions.

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Planetary Society’s LightSail Spacecraft Arrives at Cape

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, Calif., March 9, 2015 (Planetary Society PR) – The Planetary Society’s privately funded LightSail spacecraft has arrived in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where it will be integrated with an Atlas V rocket scheduled to launch no earlier than May 6. The spacecraft is part of a secondary payload dubbed ULTRASat, which will fly aboard the U.S. Air Force mission AFSPC-5.

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

Our LightSail cubesat passed every one of its tests and has been loaded into its launcher mechanism. I’m naturally happy and excited, but I admit, a bit nervous. We’ve been working to get a solar sail into space since I joined The Planetary Society Board in 1997. It’s quite a milestone. Deep breath, no turning back now, this baby’s on its own now. Here we go…

For complete coverage of the LightSail test flight, as well as the second LightSail mission scheduled for 2016, visit sail.planetary.org.

Previous LightSail press release: January 26, 2015

About the Planetary Society

Celebrating 35 years, The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of the Planetary Society’s Board, serves as CEO.

Planetary Society Announces May Flight Test for LightSail Spacecraft

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 (Planetary Society PR) – The Planetary Society today announced the first of its LightSail spacecraft will embark on a May 2015 test flight. Funded entirely by private citizens, the solar sail satellite will hitch a ride to space aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will test LightSail’s critical functions, a precursor to a second mission slated for 2016. That second flight will mark the first controlled, Earth-orbit solar sail flight and ride along with the first operational launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

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NASA Cancels Troubled Sunjammer Solar Sail Project

Sunjammer solar sail
Sunjammer solar sail

Space News reports that NASA has canceled the Sunjammer solar sail mission:

Citing a lack of confidence in its contractor’s ability to deliver, NASA has abandoned plans to fly a solar-sail mission in 2015 after investing four years and more than $21 million on the project.

The Sunjammer mission, including the spacecraft and a deployable 1,200-square-meter solar sail, was being developed by L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, California, under a contract awarded in September 2011. The contract is slated to expire this coming December, and NASA has no plans to continue the work, according to an internal memo circulated at NASA headquarters here the week of Oct. 7.

“NASA is working with L’Garde to de-scope the existing contract to close out the documentation and deliver completed work to the Agency by the end of 2014,” the memo reads….

Nathan Barnes, president of L’Garde, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview that the company’s final delivery to NASA will be a design for a spacecraft module and solar sail that in theory could propel a small spacecraft by harnessing the energy of photon strikes. L’Garde will turn over its design in a Critical Design Audit scheduled for Nov. 7, he said.

Read the full story.

ESA Developing Solar Sail to Safely Deorbit Satellites

Gossamer deorbit sail. (Credit: University of Surrey)
Gossamer deorbit sail. (Credit: University of Surrey)

PARIS (ESA PR) — When satellites reach the end of their working lives, they may pose a threat to other spacecraft as they continue to orbit in a dormant state for many decades. But now a new way to deorbit ageing satellites in a safe manner is nearing its first test in space.

In the future, satellites might carry a packaged ultra-lightweight ‘gossamer sail’ to open as they head towards retirement. The increased aerodynamic drag would pull the craft out of orbit to burn up in the high atmosphere, reducing the risk of catastrophic collisions and creating a sustainable space environment for future generations.

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