NASA, Industry Partner Test 20-Meter Solar Sail System

August 3, 2005

NASA has reached a milestone in the testing of solar sails -- a unique propulsion technology that will use sunlight to propel vehicles through space. Engineers have successfully deployed a 20-meter solar sail system that uses an inflatable boom deployment design.

L'Garde, Inc. of Tustin, Calif., deployed the system at the Space Power Facility -- the world's largest space environment simulation chamber -- at NASA Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. L'Garde is a technology development contractor for the In-Space Propulsion Technology Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., provided instrumentation and test support for the tests.

Red lights help illuminate the four, outstretched triangular sail quadrants in the chamber. The sail material is supported by an inflatable boom system designed to unfold and become rigid in the space environment. The sail and boom system is extended via remote control from a central stowage container about the size of a suitcase.

L'Garde began testing its sail system at Plum Brook in June. The test series lasted 30 days.

Solar sail technologies use energy from the Sun to power a spacecraft's journey through space. The technology bounces sunlight off giant, reflective sails made of lightweight material 40-to-100-times thinner than a piece of writing paper. The continuous sunlight pressure provides sufficient thrust to perform maneuvers, such as hovering at a fixed point in space or rotating the vehicle's plane of orbit. Such a maneuver would require a significant amount of propellant for conventional rocket systems.

Because the Sun provides the necessary propulsive energy, solar sails require no onboard propellant, thus increasing the range of mobility or the capability to hover at a fixed point for longer periods of time.

Solar sail technology was selected for development in August 2002 by NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Along with sail system design projects, the Marshall Center and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are collaborating to investigate the effects of the space environment on advanced solar sail materials. These are just three of a number of efforts undertaken by NASA Centers, industry and academia to develop solar sail technology.

Solar sail technology is being developed by the In-Space Propulsion Technology Program, managed by NASA's Science Mission Directorate and implemented by the In-Space Propulsion Technology Office at Marshall. The program's objective is to develop in-space propulsion technologies that can enable or benefit near- or mid-term NASA space science missions by significantly reducing cost, mass and travel times.

Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed by United Press International

Explore further: NASA's RapidScat celebrates one-year anniversary

Related Stories

NASA's RapidScat celebrates one-year anniversary

November 9, 2015

Where do predictions for regional weather patterns come from? For one source, look to the ocean. About 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered in oceans, and changes in ocean winds are good predictors of many weather phenomena ...

The modern, molecular hunt for the world's biodiversity

October 27, 2015

The news is full of announcements about newly discovered forms of life. This fall, we learned of a 30,000-year-old giant virus found in frozen Siberia. Until now, known viruses have contained so little genetic information ...

NASA ejects nanosatellite from microsatellite in space

December 7, 2010

( -- On Dec. 6 at 1:31 a.m. EST, NASA for the first time successfully ejected a nanosatellite from a free-flying microsatellite. NanoSail-D ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, ...

Space technology onboard transatlantic racer

November 4, 2005

Space technology will boost the performance of at least one boat during this year’s Transat Jacques Vabre international sailing contest. The race starts on Saturday from Le Havre in France, and ends in Salvador de Bahia, ...

Recommended for you

'Material universe' yields surprising new particle

November 25, 2015

An international team of researchers has predicted the existence of a new type of particle called the type-II Weyl fermion in metallic materials. When subjected to a magnetic field, the materials containing the particle act ...

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.