NASA-supported solar sail could get science to new heights

As NASA’ s exploration continues to push boundaries, a new solar sail concept selected by the agency for advancement toward a demonstration mission could carry science to new destinations. The Diffractive Solar Sailing project has been selected for Phase III study under the NASA Revolutionary Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Phase III aims in order to strategically transition NIAC principles with […]#@@#@!!

As NASA’s exploration continues to push boundaries, a brand new solar sail concept selected by the agency for development toward a demonstration objective could carry science in order to new destinations.

The Diffractive Photovoltaic Sailing project was selected for Phase III study under the NASA Innovative Innovative Concepts (NIAC) program. Stage III aims to strategically transition NIAC concepts with the highest potential impact meant for NASA, other government firms, or commercial partners.

“ As we opportunity farther out into the cosmos than ever before, we’ll need revolutionary, cutting-edge technologies to drive the missions, ” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “ The NASA Innovative Innovative Concepts program helps to uncover visionary ideas— like novel solar sails— and bring them closer to reality. ”

Like a sailboat using wind to cross the particular ocean, solar sails utilize the pressure exerted by sunshine to propel a craft through space. Existing reflecting solar sail designs are generally very large and very thin, plus they are limited by the direction of the sunlight, forcing tradeoffs among power and navigation. Diffractive lightsails would use little gratings embedded in thin films to take advantage of a house of light called diffraction, which causes light to disseminate when it passes through a narrow opening. This would allow the spacecraft to make more efficient use of sunlight without sacrificing maneuverability.

“ Exploring the universe means we need new tools, new ideas, and brand new ways of going places, ” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters within Washington. “ Our objective is to invest in those technology throughout their lifecycle to support a robust ecosystem of advancement. ”

The newest Phase III award will offer the research team $2 million over two years to continue  technology development   in preparation for a potential future demonstration mission. The project is directed by Amber Dubill of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“ NIAC allows us to foster one of the most creative technology concepts within aerospace, ” said Mike LaPointe, acting program executive for the NIAC program on NASA Headquarters. “ Our goal is to change the achievable, and diffractive solar cruising promises to do just that for several exciting new mission applications. ”

Diffractive lightsailing would extend solar power sail capability beyond can be possible with missions within development today. The project is led by Ruby Dubill of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. The particular feasibility of the concept was previously studied under NIAC’s Phase I and Phase II awards, led by Doctor Grover Swartzlander of Rochester Institute of Technology within New York, who continues being a co-investigator on the project. L’ensemble des Johnson, lead for two associated with NASA’s upcoming solar cruise missions at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, also is the co-investigator. Under the earlier awards, the team designed, produced, and tested different types of diffractive sail materials; conducted experiments; and designed new navigation and control schemes for a potential diffractive lightsail mission orbiting the Sun’s posts.

Work under Phase III will optimize the sail material and perform ground tests supporting this conceptual solar objective. Orbits passing over the Sun’s north and south posts are difficult to achieve making use of conventional spacecraft propulsion. Light-weight diffractive lightsails, propelled by the constant pressure of sunshine, could place a constellation associated with science spacecraft in orbit around the Sun’s poles to progress our understanding of the Sun plus improve our space weather forecasting capabilities.

“ Diffractive solar cruising is a modern take on the decades old vision of lightsails. While this technology may improve a multitude of  mission   architectures, it is poised to highly impact the heliophysics community’s need for unique solar observation capabilities, ” said Dubill. “ With our team’s combined expertise in optics, aerospace, traditional solar sailing, and metamaterials, we hope to allow researchers to see the Sun as no time before. ”

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