A solar sail backed by NASA might take science to new worlds.

May 26, 2022 | By | Reply More

As NASA continues to push the frontiers of exploration, a new solar sail idea chosen for development as part of a demonstration mission might transport research to new worlds.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts programme has chosen the Diffractive Solar Sailing project for Phase III investigation. Phase III strives to deliberately transfer NIAC ideas that have the greatest effect on NASA, other government agencies, or commercial partners.

Solar sails utilise the pressure generated by sunlight to move a vehicle across space, similar to how a sailboat uses the wind to span the ocean. Existing reflecting solar sail designs are often quite wide and thin, and they are constrained by the direction of the sun, requiring power-to-navigation compromises. Small gratings embedded in thin films would be used in diffractive lightsails to take advantage of diffraction, a feature of light that causes light to spread out as it passes through a tiny hole. This would enable the spaceship to utilise sunlight more efficiently while maintaining agility.

“Exploring the cosmos necessitates the development of new equipment, concepts, and methods of travel.” “at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said Jim Reuter, assistant administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “Our objective is to invest in such innovations over their whole lifespan in order to foster a healthy innovation environment.”

The new Phase III funding will provide the research team with $2 million over the next two years to continue technology development in anticipation of a future demonstration mission. Amber Dubill of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is leading the study.

Diffractive lightsailing would expand the capabilities of solar sails beyond what is now achievable with missions under development. Amber Dubill of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is leading the study. Dr. Grover Swartzlander of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, who remains as a co-investigator on the project, led prior studies on the practicality of the idea under NIAC’s Phase I and Phase II contracts. Les Johnson, the project manager for two of NASA’s future solar sail missions based at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is also a co-investigator. The team developed, produced, and tested several kinds of diffractive sail materials, performed tests, and devised novel navigation and control techniques for a possible diffractive lightsail mission circling the Sun’s poles as part of previous grants.

In support of this proposed solar mission, Phase III work will improve the sail material and conduct ground testing. Using traditional spacecraft propulsion, orbits travelling over the Sun’s north and south poles are difficult to accomplish. Lightweight diffractive lightsails pushed by sunlight’s steady pressure might be used to launch a constellation of research spacecraft into orbit around the Sun’s poles, advancing our knowledge of the Sun and improving our space weather forecasting skills.

“We’ll need creative, cutting-edge technology to propel our missions as we push farther out into the cosmos than ever before.” “NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told SFcrowsnest. “The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts programme assists in unlocking and bringing visionary concepts closer to reality, such as innovative solar sails.”


Category: Science

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Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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