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Solar Sail

Artist's depiction of the Sunjammer spacecraft leaving Earth orbit

The team of NASA, L’Guarde, and Space Services Inc. are preparing for the Sunjammer space mission that in 2015 will see the first deep space deployment of a solar sail. On September 30, the Sunjammer team completed a milestone when they successfully deployed a quarter panel of the spacecraft’s solar sail.  Read More

Scanning electron microscope image of a strand of the new solar sail tehther (Image: ESA/H...

This month, the University of Helsinki and the European Space Agency (ESA) will test a new space tether that has less chance of snapping under the stresses of operating in orbit. Installed aboard Estonia’s ESTCube-1 cubesat, the new tether is scheduled to be launched with ESA’s Proba-V satellite atop a Vega rocket as part of an experiment in developing an electric solar sail.  Read More

The 20-meter (65.6-ft) solar sail and boom system, developed by L'Garde Inc. of Tustin, Ca...

NASA is getting ready to ride the “winds” of space on sails lighter than gossamer, yet large enough to cover a small field. The space agency’s Solar Sail Demonstration, also known as the Sunjammer Project, may launch as early as 2014 when it will send the largest solar sail yet built into orbit, to demonstrate the technical viability of the device.  Read More

Artist's concept of Apophis being hit with paintballs (Image: MIT)

How do you deflect a civilization-destroying asteroid that's heading straight for Earth? Shoot paintballs at it. This may sound like an exercise in futility, but if the calculations of MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek are correct, then the sport of running around in the woods shooting splotches of paint at people on the weekends could get a lot more respect.  Read More

A CubeSat with solar sails could be sent on a mission to the Martian moon Phobos (Image: N...

NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program provides funding to study a small number of highly advanced spaceflight concepts, with the goal of understanding the technological possibilities which will guide the development of future space missions. Under this program, a JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) researcher has proposed the use of a pair of CubeSats for an autonomous mission to retrieve samples from Phobos, Mars' larger moon.  Read More

NASA is planning to demonstrate the largest solar sail ever built, in an upcoming space mi...

NASA's upcoming Technology Demonstration Missions are intended to "transform its space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities." Three project proposals have been selected for these missions, which should be launching in 2015 and 2016. One of those projects, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, we've told you about already. Another, however, will be demonstrating a mission-capable solar sail. While NASA has recently tested a solar sail measuring 100 square feet (9.29 square meters), this one will be the largest ever flown, spanning a whopping 15,543 square feet, or 1,444 square meters.  Read More

An artist's concept of a solar sail in Earth orbit (Image: NASA)

What looked like a failed mission has turned into an unexpected win for NASA with the successful deployment of the first-ever solar sail in low-Earth orbit. More than a month after the NanoSail-D nanosatellite failed to eject from its parent satellite, engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center were pleasantly surprised when the 3.9 x 3.9 x 14.9-inch unit spontaneously separated from the Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) last week. On January 20, after a timed three-day countdown, the ultra-thin, 100-square-foot polymer sail carried by the nanosatellite was unfurled 650 km above Earth where it will remain in orbit for up to 120 days.  Read More

Artist's impression of the data clipper concept (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

There's a new kind of spaceship on the horizon. No, it's not a cruise ship (we wish!) – it's a clipper, and if Joel Poncy and his team at Thales Alenia Space have their way, it's coming to a solar system near you. The data clipper will be a maneuverable solar-powered spacecraft that collects scientific data and downloads it to Earth, and fleets of them could map the planets and celestial bodies of our solar system.  Read More

IKAROS with it's solar sail successfully deployed

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s IKAROS space yacht which launched last month has successfully unfurled its solar sail. The accomplishment marks the first time a solar sail has been successfully deployed in space.  Read More

The IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) solar sail

Although the idea of a solar sail was first proposed some 100 years ago, to date none has been successfully used in space as a primary means of propulsion. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is looking to change all that with its IKAROS project – not a misspelling of Icarus, rather an abbreviation of Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. Launched today aboard the H-IIA Launch Vehicle (H-IIA F17), IKAROS is a space yacht that gathers energy for propulsion from sunlight pressure (photons) by means of a square membrane measuring 20 meters (65.6 ft) diagonally.  Read More

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