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NASA Solar Sail Propulsion Technology Development

By Roy Young, Edward E. Montgomery, Les Johnson and Charles Adams

Abstract

NASA's In-Space Propulsion Technology Program has developed the first generation of solar sail propulsion systems sufficient to accomplish inner solar system science and exploration missions. These first generation solar sails, when operational, will range in size from 40 meters to well over 100 meters in diameter and have an areal density of less than 13 grams per square meter. A rigorous, multi-year technology development effort culminated in 2005 with the testing of two different 20-m solar sail systems under thermal vacuum conditions. The first system, developed by ATK Space Systems of Goleta, California, uses rigid booms to deploy and stabilize the sail. In the second approach, L'Garde, Inc. of Tustin, California uses inflatable booms that rigidize in the coldness of space to accomplish sail deployment. This effort provided a number of significant insights into the optimal design and expected performance of solar sails as well as an understanding of the methods and costs of building and using them. In a separate effort, solar sail orbital analysis tools for mission design were developed and tested. Laboratory simulations of the effects of long-term space radiation exposure were also conducted on two candidate solar sail materials. Detailed radiation and charging environments were defined for mission trajectories outside the protection of the earth's magnetosphere, in the solar wind environment. These were used in other analytical tools to prove the adequacy of sail design features for accommodating the harsh space environment. Preceding and in conjunction with these technology efforts, NASA sponsored several mission application studies for solar sails. Potential missions include those that would be flown in the near term to study the sun and be used in space weather prediction to one that would use an evolved sail capability to support humanity's first mission into nearby interstellar space. This paper will describe the status of solar sail propulsion within NASA, nearterm solar sail mission applications, and near-term plans for further development

Topics: Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:casi.ntrs.nasa.gov:20070032695
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