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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Metaspectral Will Reduce Data Transmission Costs From Space By Over 50%

VANCOUVER, B.C. & LOS ANGELES (Metaspectral PR) – Metaspectral, a company offering technology that derives real-time insights from AI using ultra-high-resolution, visible-to-infrared (hyperspectral) images, has completed the Los Angeles-based, Starburst SCALE Aerospace Accelerator Program. Throughout this program, Metaspectral has laid the groundwork to roll out its market-ready solution that will cut spectral data transmission costs from space by over 50%.

Data transmission is crucial to the success of space missions including low Earth orbit, Lunar, and Mars missions. With the number of missions on track to increase dramatically following NASA’s Artemis lunar program, those missions will only have an eight-hour connectivity window per week to transmit data back down to earth from the lunar orbit. Further, several planned Low-Earth Orbit constellations such as Satellogic, Orbital Sidekick, and Pixxel are also set to face millions of dollars per year in data transmission costs, due to the vast quantity of data that must be transferred through the atmosphere down to Earth. 

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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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NASA Selects Innovative, Early-Stage Tech Concepts for Continued Study

Notional view of LCRT on the far-side of the Moon. (Credits: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA encourages researchers to develop and study unexpected approaches for traveling through, understanding, and exploring space. To further these goals, the agency has selected seven studies for additional funding – totaling $5 million – from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The researchers previously received at least one NIAC award related to their proposals.

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NASA Selects Nine Scientists to Join Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter Mission

A high-definition image of the Mars Australe lava plain on the Moon taken by Japan’s Kaguya lunar orbiter in November 2007. (Credits: JAXA/NHK)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine scientists to join the upcoming Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) mission. Set to launch in August 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 and orbit the Moon for about a year, KPLO is the first space exploration mission of the Republic of Korea (ROK) that will travel beyond Earth orbit.

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NIAC Award: Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Image depicting the Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration concept. (Credits: Artur Davoyan)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Artur Davoyan
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.

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NASA Selects Early Stage Innovations from US Universities for Multi-Year Research, Development

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — Universities help propel NASA technology forward, researching everything from unique rocket engine designs to how landers interact with surfaces on other worlds. NASA has selected 14 university-led research proposals to study early-stage technologies relevant to these topics and more. The grants will fund ambitious projects to mature technologies for future NASA missions.

“There are talented researchers outside of NASA, working at universities across the country, who are poised to help us look at challenging aspects of space exploration in new ways,” said Walt Engelund, deputy associate administrator of programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the help of these institutions and principal investigators, NASA will accelerate innovation for critical space technologies.”

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The Moon and Mercury May Have Thick Ice Deposits

Mercury (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Earth’s Moon and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, may contain significantly more water ice than previously thought, according to a new analysis of data from NASA’s LRO and MESSENGER spacecraft.

The potential ice deposits are found in craters near the poles of both worlds. On the Moon, “We found shallow craters tend to be located in areas where surface ice was previously detected near the south pole of the Moon, and inferred this shallowing is most likely due to the presence of buried thick ice deposits,” said lead author Lior Rubanenko of the University of California, Los Angeles.

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NASA-funded ELFIN CubeSats to Study How Electrons Get Lost

An artist’s depiction of the Van Allen Belts, showing Earth’s magnetic field lines and the trajectories of charged particles trapped by them. The twin ELFIN spacecraft are shown following their inclined polar orbit, traced in yellow. (Credits: UCLA EPSS/NASA SVS)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Three hundred and ten miles above our planet’s surface, near-Earth space is abuzz with action. Here begin the Van Allen Belts, a pair of concentric rings of fast-moving particles and intense radiation that extends more than 30,000 miles farther into space.

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UCLA Students Launch Project that’s Out of this World

By Rebecca Kendall
UCLA

Five years ago, a group of UCLA undergrads came together with a common goal — to build a small satellite and launch it into space. In the years since, more than 250 students — many of whom are now UCLA graduate students and alumni — have been the mechanical engineers, software developers, thermal and power testers, electronics technicians, mission planners and fabricators of the twin Electron Losses and Fields Investigation CubeSats, known as ELFIN.

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NASA Announces Ninth Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 11 small research satellites from seven states and Puerto Rico to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard space missions planned to launch in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

The selections are part of the ninth round of the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative. CubeSats are a type of spacecraft called nanosatellites, often measuring about four inches on each side and weighing less than three pounds, with a volume of about one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions as Units or “U”, and are classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in total size.

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SpaceX Dragon to Carry More Than 40 National Laboratory-Sponsored Experiments to ISS

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL. (CASIS PR) The SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle is slated to launch its 11thcargo resupply mission (CRS-11) to the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than June 1, 2017 from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A. Onboard the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which will carry more than 40 ISS U.S. National Laboratory sponsored experiments.

This mission will showcase the breadth of research possible through the ISS National Laboratory, as experiments range from the life and physical sciences, Earth observation and remote sensing, and a variety of student-led investigations.

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