NASA’s solar sail to fly in space - no engines, no fuel required! You could even see it from Earth - Hindustan Times
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NASA’s solar sail to fly in space - no engines, no fuel required! You could even see it from Earth

Apr 11, 2024 09:44 PM IST

This unique solar sail is set to be launched above Earth and from a tiny space, it will turn into a 80-mtr giant up in the sky.

It was stuff dreamed of by the most imaginative science fiction writers who let their imagination run away with them. However, those dreamed up devices lying around in dusty corners and bookshelves are actually being manufactured now and one, NASA’s solar sail, is all ready to make its debut and prove that the technology is viable. This amazing instrument shows, like no other, that ideas rule the world like never before.

NASA's solar sail is all set for launch and it will not require engines and fuel for propulsion. Simply photons will do.(Credit: NASA/Aero Animation/Ben Schweighart)
NASA's solar sail is all set for launch and it will not require engines and fuel for propulsion. Simply photons will do.(Credit: NASA/Aero Animation/Ben Schweighart)

So, what do we really have here? NASA has revealed that its next-generation solar sail boom is ready for launch. Yes, its job is to do nothing but sail through space majestically just like the sailing ships were doing once upon a time in the pre-combustion engine era.

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This new solar sail, known as the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, is expected to be launched from Mahia in New Zealand aboard Rocket Labs Electron rocket. Among the two most sought after results from this experiment is whether the tech is viable for future space travel and if it will increase the sum of knowledge about the powers of the Sun.

How the solar sail works

Since there is no fuel to push it forward, the sail will depend on nothing but the Sun to propel it onwards. And this can be towards or away from the Sun. The idea is to allow the photons to bounce off the reflective sail to provide the necessary energy to make the spacecraft move, acquire momentum and then keep speeding up.

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Needless to say, without the need for expensive propulsion systems, the cost of running this sail will decrease spending massively for all kinds of missions.

NASA is also looking at the new technology at its disposal to get rid of some of the restrictions of these solar sails. One of its big weaknesses was the material and the structure of the boom. However, in this respect NASA is looking at changing the solar sailing game forever.

The solar sail will be used to test its composite boom made of flexible polymer and carbon fiber material. It will also look to enhance performance by going through certain maneuvers to even change the direction of the craft.

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Once launched into space and at an altitude of about 1000 km above Earth, the little spacecraft will start stretching out its composite booms. When fully deployed, it will measure 80 square meters.

Amazingly, with its sail stretched out, the spacecraft may even be visible from Earth if the lighting conditions allow it. Another amazing part of the spacecraft’s boom is that it can roll up into a shape that can fit in one hand.

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