NASA has announced plans to launch the world’s largest solar sail in 2014 – and it will be travelling an incredible two million miles from Earth. The giant solar sail will use photons from the sun for propulsion, paving the way for various exploration missions that could be accomplished only through the use of “propellantless propulsion” technology. The solar sail technology could be used in the collection and removal of orbital debris, communicating with the Earth’s South Pole or even in organizing commercial space travel.
The Sunjammer mission, named after an Arthur C. Clarke short story about interplanetary yacht race, will be executed using the technology previously tested in NASA’s NanoSail-D mission and JAXA’s IKAROS solar sailing space vehicle. The Sunjammer’s destination will be the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable spot located between the Earth and its nearest star. The sail will be sent into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket. Although it will be executed as just a demonstration mission, Sunjammer’s technology could allow for a range of practical applications in space exploration.
The material used to make the Sunjammer’s sail is called Kapton- a 5 microns thick polyimde film manufactured by chemical company DuPont. The sail has a total area of around 13,000 square feet but weighs only 70 pounds and can fit into a dishwasher. The lightness of the material will allow the sail to tow a support module across space using nothing but sunlight as propellant.
“All space travel right now is limited by expendables,” said Billy Derbes, chief engineer for Sunjammer. “If you show a technology not limited by expendables — and Kapton is a long-lasting film material — what new applications will people think up? We’re opening up a whole new kind of thinking about how you do things in space.”
Via NBC News
Photos by NASA