NASA's advanced solar sail successfully deployed in space: ScienceAlert

Solar sails are a mysterious and majestic way to travel across the gulf of space. Compared to sailing ships of the past, it is one of the most efficient ways to propel vehicles in space.

A RocketLab Electron rocket on Tuesday launched NASA's new advanced composite solar sail system. It aims to test the deployment of large solar sails in low Earth orbit, and NASA confirmed on Wednesday that it had successfully deployed a 9-meter sail.

In 1886 the automobile was invented. In 1903 humans made the first powered flight. Only 58 years later, humans made their first trip into space on a rocket. Rocket technology has changed dramatically over the centuries, yes centuries.

The development of the missile began in the 13th century when the Chinese and Mongols fired missile arrows at each other. Things have evolved somewhat since then, and we now have solid and liquid rocket fuels, ion engines, and solar sails with more technology in the wings.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rises from a launch pad in Florida to send Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander into space. (NASA/YouTube)

Solar sails are especially important because they harness the power of the sun, or starlight, to propel probes through space. The idea isn't new: Johannes Kepler (of planetary movement fame) first proposed that sunlight could be used to propel spacecraft in the 17th century in his work titled “Somnium.”

We had to wait until the twentieth century before Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky demonstrated the principle of how solar sails actually work.

Carl Sagan and other members of the Planetary Society began proposing missions using solar sails in the 1970s and 1980s, but it wasn't until 2010 that we saw the first practical solar sail vehicle, IKAROS.

See also  Close encounter with a mysterious moon
Image of the fully deployed IKAROS solar sail, captured by the separation camera. (jaxa)

The concept of solar sails is very easy to understand and is based on the pressure of sunlight. The sails are tilted so that photons hit and bounce off the reflective sail to propel the spacecraft forward.

Of course, it takes a lot of photons to accelerate a spacecraft using light but slowly, over time it becomes a very efficient propulsion system that does not require heavy engines or fuel tanks.

This reduction in mass made it easier for solar sails to be accelerated by sunlight but the sizes of the sails were limited by the materials and structure of the booms that supported them.

NASA is working to solve the problem with its next generation Solar Sail Boom technology. Their advanced composite solar sail system uses a CubeSat designed by NanoAvionics to test the new composite boom support structure.

It is made of flexible polymer materials and carbon fiber to create a stiffer and lighter alternative to current support structure designs.

On Wednesday, April 24, NASA confirmed that the CubeSat satellite had reached low Earth orbit and deployed a 9-meter sail. They are now operating the probe and concluding a ground contract. It took about 25 minutes to deploy the 80 square meter sail.

If conditions are right, it may be visible from Earth, perhaps rivaling Sirius in brightness.

This article was originally published by The universe today. Read the Original article.

See also  Princeton scientists solve a bacterial mystery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *