What Is A Solar Sail Made Of?

What Is A Solar Sail Made Of
Solar sails are composed of flat, smooth material covered with a reflective coating and supported by lightweight structures attached to a central hub. Near-term sails likely will use alumi- nized Mylar—a strong, thin polyester film—or CP-1, a space- rated insulating material.

What material is being tested for solar sails?

Graphene shows promise as solar sail material in ESA tests ESA engineers are looking at using the world’s thinnest known material to build lighter, more efficient solar sails. By making sails out of one-atom-thick graphene sheets, the space agency aims to make sails capable of propelling unmanned interstellar missions.

  1. Solar sails have been considered on and off as a way of propelling spacecraft ever since Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first put forward the idea early in the 20th century.
  2. By using sunlight or lasers aimed at gigantic, gossamer-like sails, the pressure of photons hitting the sails could generate thrust, pushing the craft along like a sailing ship.

The acceleration of such a system would be tiny, but constant. More important, it would require zero propellant, so the probe would be very light. However, the sails themselves would add their own considerable mass, reducing the efficiency of the system. The 3-mm-wide graphene light sail To see if graphene has any promise as a sail material, researchers took a patch of graphene sheet 3 mm across and dropped it inside a 100-meter-high (330-ft) vacuum tower. As it went into free-fall, the little sail was hit by a series of 1-watt lasers, which accelerated it by as much as 1 m/s².

As part of ESA’s Business Incubator program, the SCALE Nanotech startup firm is currently looking for commercial partners to scale up the system and test it in orbit.”Making graphene is relatively simple and could be easily scaled up to kilometer-wide sails, though the deployment of a giant sail will be a serious challenge,” says Santiago Cartamil-Bueno, leader of the GrapheneSail team and director of SCALE Nanotech.Source:

: Graphene shows promise as solar sail material in ESA tests

How strong are solar sails?

Does a solar sail fly on the solar wind? – No. Solar sails fly on photons, whereas the solar wind is made up of different ionized particles ejected by the Sun. These particles move slower than light and create a force that is less than one percent as strong as light pressure.

How thick is a solar sail?

Solar sails Agency 15899 views 41 likes If you are going to rely on the Sun for your power supply and only take inert propellant with you then why not go all the way and rely on the Sun for your propellant too? The only requirement of Newton’s third law is that something has its momentum changed.

For example in a sailing boat the wind is really made up of countless gas particles all moving in roughly the same direction. When they hit the sail they bounce of and start to move in another direction. This change of momentum for the wind produces a corresponding change of momentum for the boat and this drives it forward.

Light is also made up of countless particles called photons, each of which has its own momentum. Each photon has an energy E and travels at the speed of light, c, It also has a momentum p, given by: If these photons are forced to change direction then their momentum must change and the easiest way to do this is to use a mirror. However, glass mirrors are very heavy and the solar radiation pressure is very small, only 4.7 x 10 -6 N m -2 at the Earth’s orbit.

This means that practical solar sails will have to be made very large, hundreds of metres if not kilometres across, and so of very lightweight materials. One current solution uses a metallised plastic film around 2 μm thick (about 4% of the thickness of an ‘average’ human hair). Using solar sails would allow spacecraft to be made much lighter and so be able to carry larger payloads.

Like traditional sailing boats, solar sails do not have to just ‘run with the wind’, they can change course by tilting the sail or even tack in to the wind and so head sunwards. One proposal by ESA is for a ‘sample return mission’ to Mercury, the hardest planet to reach in the solar system if you are using traditional rocket motors.

They would even make it practicable to carry out missions that are impossible with traditional propulsion systems, for example orbiting constantly over the pole of the Sun to carry out scientific research, or even hovering over the Earth’s poles to act as a polar communications ‘satellite’. Solar sails could also be used to power a mission to the very edge of the solar system far faster than any other known technology.

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How fast could solar sails go?

By performing a slingshot maneuver in the vicinity of the sun, just ~2-5 solar radii distant from the sun, solar sails can propel light-weight cubesat class spacecraft to near-relativistic speeds, >0.1% of the speed of light ( >300 km/s or >60AU/year characteristic velocities).

Why dont we use solar sails?

Existing reflective solar sail designs are typically very large and very thin, and they are limited by the direction of the sunlight, forcing tradeoffs between power and navigation.

How much does a solar sail cost?

Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | NASA pursues tests of solar sail, laser communications NASA pursues tests of solar sail, laser communications SPACEFLIGHT NOW Posted: August 21, 2011 Kicking off a new line of technology demonstration missions, NASA announced plans Monday to demonstrate a laser communications system, a precise atomic clock and a futuristic solar sail in space by 2016, but officials cautioned budgetary negotiations may keep the high-tech missions on the ground. Photo of a solar sail deployed in ground testing. Credit: NASA “NASA has selected three proposals as technology demonstration missions that we believe will transform space communications and in-space propulsion,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s deputy chief technologist.

“The missions will develop and fly a space solar sail, a deep space atomic clock and a space laser communications system.” Launches of the three demo missions are expected in 2015 and 2016 as piggyback payloads. The experiments would fly on already-planned rocket launches or as hosted payloads on existing satellites.

“These technology demonstration missions will improve our communications, navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities, enable future missions that could not otherwise be performed, and build the technological capability of America’s space industry,” said Bobby Braun, NASA’s chief technologist.

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The mission trio is the first set of flight tests selected since NASA started a fresh program in 2010 focusing on the development of advanced technologies for future applications in space travel. NASA’s technology office plans to invest $175 million in the three missions. Additional funding will come from other NASA divisions and external federal agencies, according to Gazarik.

Gazarik told reporters Monday each team included a tentative total cost in their proposal to NASA. The solar sail demo is expected to cost $20 million, the deep space atomic clock project will run about $60 million, and the laser communications payload is projected to cost $170 million, Gazarik said.

The final cost figures will be available after negotiations between NASA, the experiment teams and potential cost-sharing partners inside and outside the agency. NASA selected the three winners out of 47 proposals received. The space agency solicited suggestions from the research community addressing one of four areas: advanced space communications; positioning, navigation and timing; orbital debris removal and mitigation; and autonomous rendezvous, formation-flying and docking.

Bonnie James, NASA’s program executive for the technology demonstration missions, said affordability was one of the factors in the agency’s decision on which projects to award funding. Although the White House requested more than $1 billion for NASA’s technology development effort in fiscal year 2012, the Republican-led House included just $375 million for the program in its draft budget for next year.

  1. The space agency’s high-tech research program is working with $512 million this fiscal year, which ends Sept.30.
  2. With such uncertainty in the budget, Gazarik acknowledged NASA made “conservative” assumptions about federal money for the technology program through the next few years, saying they didn’t adopt the White House’s $1 billion dream budget when considering what missions to select in the competition.

“All of this is subject to the appropriations process,” Gazarik said, adding it would not be prudent at this time to discuss specific numbers in NASA’s budget projection. All three missions announced Monday will fly into space as secondary passengers on commercial launch vehicles. Artist’s concept of a next-generation Iridium communications satellite in orbit. Credit: Thales Alenia Space The deep space atomic clock, led by researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, will fly as a hosted payload on a single next-generation Iridium communications satellite.

  • It will be ready to fly within three years of the start of full-scale development, NASA said.
  • The mission features a miniaturized mercury-ion atomic clock 10 times more accurate than today’s systems.
  • It will make use of GPS navigation signals to demonstrate precise orbit determination, proving the clock could be used to supplant deep space radio navigation.

The laser communications instrument will be stationed in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles over the equator, a prime location to conduct communications experiments with orbiting satellites or ground stations. It will be bolted to an unidentified commercial communications satellite and should be ready to launch in four years, according to David Israel, the leader of the investigation from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

  • NASA hopes to gradually shift its legacy radio-based communications network to an optical system, and the laser test is a significant milestone to meet that goal.
  • This transition will take several years to complete, but the eventual payback will be very large increases in the amount of data we can transmit, both downlink and uplink, especially to distant destinations in the solar system and beyond,” said James Reuther, director of NASA’s crosscutting technology demonstrations division.

NASA’s new human exploration and operations mission directorate will fund a portion of the laser communications experiment. The NASA unit oversees the International Space Station, the development of future commercial and government spacecraft, and manages the agency’s fleet of tracking and data relay satellites that link the space station and satellites with ground controllers.

  1. Optical laser communications could enable data links and bandwidths up to 100 times faster than legacy radio systems, vastly expanding the science and spectacular imagery returned from future human and robotic missions.
  2. For example, Gazarik said laser communications would reduce the transmission time of a high-resolution image from Mars from 90 minutes to less than 10 minutes.

“It will be like going from home dial-up Internet service to broadband as far as data transmission rates from Mars,” Gazarik said. Conceptual sketch of NASA’s laser communications experiment aboard a commercial satellite. Credit: NASA The solar sail mission, led by L’Garde Inc. of California, would unfurl an ultra-thin sail membrane seven times larger than ever flown in space before.

  1. The proposed sail has area more than 15,000 square feet, four times bigger than the largest sail ever deployed on the ground.
  2. The biggest solar sail flown in space before was Japan’s Ikaros mission, which covered a surface area of about 2,100 square feet.
  3. It successfully proved the theory of solar sailing, which relies on pressure from sunlight to accelerate the spacecraft.

Ikaros also last year tested rudimentary navigation techniques by tilting its sail from side to side to slightly change its course through the solar system. Photons, or units of light, from the sun bombard the solar sail and transfer small amounts of energy to the spacecraft without needing heavy chemical propellants.

  1. The efficient mode of propulsion could open up a wide range of possible space missions inconceivable with current technology.
  2. The small sails that have been demonstrated to date are just proof of concept to see that the sail can be deployed and you could actually get it to work and propel youself,” Reuther said Monday.

“This concept takes it much further than that.” The L’Garde solar sail concept is big enough to actually show utility for specific missions. NOAA is collaborating with NASA and L’Garde on the demonstration in hopes of using the technology on the GeoStorm project, which is looking at locating satellites at gravity-neutral pseudo Lagrange points three times further than Earth than satellites can currently operate.

NOAA places conventional satellites at a Lagrange point 1 million miles from Earth to give warning of approaching solar storms that could disrupt communications, electrical grids and other infrastructure in everyday life. Solar sail technology could allow satellites to be placed at a stationary point up to 3 million miles from Earth, increasing the warning time from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.

The solar sail demo selected by NASA is “taking it far enough along to show that you could, in fact, connect this sail to a future mission to perform a particular task, such as stationkeeping,” Reuther said. “Furthermore, the sail is actually a guided sail.

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Can you steer a solar sail?

Solar sails offer a propellant-free alternative for deep space travel; however, they are limited in maneuverability. This new electrically controllable device enables a solar sail to be steered by changing the photon pressure at different parts of the sail.

What are the disadvantages of solar sails?

Advantages & Disadvantages – The s olar sail advantages mainly include the following.

The solar-sail spacecraft advantage is, it travels between the stars and planets without using fuel. It uses simply a conventional launch vehicle to enter into Earth orbit, wherever the solar sails can be arranged & the spacecraft transmit on its way. It doesn’t need fuel Use of less spacecraft resource Low within the mass Lifespan is longer within space

The solar sail disadvantages mainly include the following.

The main drawback of a solar sail is the science missions do not lie within LEO (Low Earth Orbit). So we run the validating risk of solar sails like a technology within a surrounding for which they are not proposed. The operating temperature of the sail is a function of sail angle, solar distance, reflectivity, etc. Sail is used simply where its temperature is kept within the limits of the material. They are delicate, large & cannot be utilized on any craft proposed to land on other bodies unless retracted.

Thus, this is all about which is used for a long-distance NASA mission. Solar sails are also known as photon sails or light sails which are a spacecraft propulsion method with radiation force used through sunlight on huge mirrors. Here is a question for you, what are the solar sail design challenges? : Solar Sail : Types, Working, Tests, Advantages & Its Applications

Can solar sails work on Earth?

With just sunlight as power, a solar sail would never be launched directly from the ground. A second spacecraft is needed to launch the solar sail, which would then be deployed in space. Another possible way to launch a solar sail would be with microwave or laser beams provided by a satellite or other spacecraft.

How big would a solar sail need to be?

To have enough force to handle a spacecraft payload of just 10 grams, the sail needs an area of 100,000 square meters —a square over 300 meters a side.

How big would a solar sail have to be?

A solar sail the size of almost 60 football fields could be one of the fastest ways across the solar system, as long as it is made out of microscopic charged wires.

How long would it take to get to Mars using a solar sail?

Such a spaceship would reach Mars in about 532 days., where m is the mass of a spacecraft, and T the time of a mission.

How much force does a solar sail generate?

This article is about spacecraft propulsion by radiation pressure from sunlight. For propulsion by means of the solar wind, see electric sail and magnetic sail, For The Planetary Society spacecraft, see LightSail, “laser sail” redirects here. Not to be confused with Laser (dinghy),

This article needs to be updated, The reason given is: The article appears to only cover projects up to 2016. Please help update this to reflect recent events or newly available information. ( June 2019 )

IKAROS space-probe with solar sail in flight (artist’s depiction) showing a typical square sail configuration Solar sails (also known as light sails and photon sails ) are a method of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors.

A number of spaceflight missions to test solar propulsion and navigation have been proposed since the 1980s. The first spacecraft to make use of the technology was IKAROS, launched in 2010. A useful analogy to solar sailing may be a sailing boat; the light exerting a force on the mirrors is akin to a sail being blown by the wind.

High-energy laser beams could be used as an alternative light source to exert much greater force than would be possible using sunlight, a concept known as beam sailing. Solar sail craft offer the possibility of low-cost operations combined with long operating lifetimes.

  • Since they have few moving parts and use no propellant, they can potentially be used numerous times for delivery of payloads.
  • Solar sails use a phenomenon that has a proven, measured effect on astrodynamics,
  • Solar pressure affects all spacecraft, whether in interplanetary space or in orbit around a planet or small body.

A typical spacecraft going to Mars, for example, will be displaced thousands of kilometers by solar pressure, so the effects must be accounted for in trajectory planning, which has been done since the time of the earliest interplanetary spacecraft of the 1960s.

How long would it take to get to Alpha Centauri using a solar sail?

But in February 2022, researchers at Penn Engineering and the Breakthrough Starshot initiative said they’re working on a new method of traveling to the nearest star system. Their new concept uses a new, more durable solar sail. If it works, it could reach Alpha Centauri in as little as 20 years.

Can a solar sail travel towards the sun?

You cannot directly propel the solar sail towards the sun. The analogy of wind and sails on ships is not useful for understanding how solar sails work. Each photon from the sun which strikes the sail is reflected. Each photon imparts a small amount of momentum.

How long would it take to get to Alpha Centauri using a solar sail?

But in February 2022, researchers at Penn Engineering and the Breakthrough Starshot initiative said they’re working on a new method of traveling to the nearest star system. Their new concept uses a new, more durable solar sail. If it works, it could reach Alpha Centauri in as little as 20 years.

How long would it take to get to Mars using a solar sail?

Such a spaceship would reach Mars in about 532 days., where m is the mass of a spacecraft, and T the time of a mission.

How do you calculate force on a solar sail?

Using the following equations and values, you can calculate the force of sunlight on and acceleration of the spacecraft: Force (F) = 2(P x A)/c. Acceleration (a) = F/M.

How big would a solar sail have to be?

Calculating what it would take to park a solar sail at Alpha Centauri Breakthrough Starshot is an initiative that hopes to send miniature spaceships on a high-speed jaunt to the Centauri system sometime within the next few decades. Doing that requires the development of a variety of untried technology—and that’s before we get to the issue of sending data back.

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Still, even if Breakthrough Starshot never gets any hardware beyond the Solar System, it’s clearly getting people to think about what it would take to get a good look at our closest stellar neighbors. In the latest example, a German researcher named René Heller has teamed with Michael Hippke, a self-proclaimed “” with 10 peer-reviewed publications.

Their goal: to see if we could not just get hardware to the Centauri system, but put it into orbit for long-term observations. The answer’s yes, but the trip will not be short. Breakthrough Starshot’s design is a tiny micro-spacecraft attached to a solar sail.

  • Solar sails don’t actually need the Sun; they can accelerate by using light from any source.
  • So, Breakthrough Starshot hopes to have an array of lasers give the sail and its spacecraft a boost up to 20 percent of the speed of light.
  • That will get the spacecraft to Proxima Centauri, the closest star.
  • Data will get back while most of the principals involved in the work are still alive.

But that speed also means that they won’t have much time to find anything out about Proxima and its orbiting exoplanet. The spacecraft “would traverse a distance equivalent to the Moon’s orbit around the Earth in just about six seconds,” the researchers note, “with little time left for high-quality close-up exploration and posing huge demands to the imaging system.” So, Heller and Hippke decided to look into the possibility of slowing things back down.

Their results appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Two features of their plan make slowing down a solar sail possible. The first is that solar sails work just as well (or just as poorly, really) to decelerate an object as they do to accelerate it. The other is that Proxima Centauri is close to two other stars, Alpha Centauri A and B.

These other stars offer the prospect of slowing spacecraft down enough to get them to gently enter orbit at Proxima Centauri. This works when all three stars are roughly in the same plane from Earth’s perspective, which happens about every 80 years (with the next one occurring in 2035).

  • Advertisement So the authors took a model that was meant to handle gravitational interactions among multiple bodies and modified it to include the radiation pressure on a solar sail from the stars themselves.
  • They then ran multiple simulations, shooting probes with different trajectories and speeds into the system to figure out what might work.

Some limitations on the trajectories were immediately apparent. Any paths that put the spacecraft closer than three times the star’s radius “lead to a physical encounter of the sail with the star.” As it’s notably difficult to make observations from inside a star, these trajectories were ruled out.

  • It’s also possible to balance things out so that the hardware comes to a full stop and enters a circular orbit at the first star to which it is sent.
  • Since that’s not the star with a planet known to be orbiting it, these aren’t especially useful either.
  • But two other results are possible.
  • One is to have the probe enter a large elliptical orbit, which would allow it to reorient and use the star’s light to accelerate onwards.

Others slow the craft, but allow it to proceed onward to the next star in the system, if the approach trajectory is right. Chaining two of these approaches together allows the craft to approach Proxima Centauri slowly enough to enter orbit. That’s the good news.

  • Nearly everything else is bad.
  • Gravity is a minor contributor to the slowdown, about three orders of magnitude less than the influence of photons on the solar sail.
  • That means that the deceleration process is heavily dependent upon everything those photons are pushing against: the combined mass of the sail and spacecraft, as well as the area of the sail.

To have enough force to handle a spacecraft payload of just 10 grams, the sail needs an area of 100,000 square meters—a square over 300 meters a side. And that sail would have to have a mass-to-area ratio only slightly heavier than that of, Of course the sail can’t be graphene, since graphene is notably transparent, and solar sails need to be reflective.

That incredibly light material would also somehow have to survive coming close enough to the stars it passes that the electron temperature of the plasma it encounters is over 100,000K. Advertisement But other than that, the whole idea is fine. Well, not entirely fine. The process won’t work with something going as fast as the planned Breakthrough Starshot craft.

If you send it toward the Centauri system any faster than 13,800 kilometers a second, interactions with the stars won’t be able to slow the craft down. Which means it would take 100 years to travel between Earth and the Centauri system. You can also tack on another 50 years for maneuvers among the three stars before the craft is placed in orbit.

So we’re not looking at any sort of rapid return of data, assuming we can even build electronics that will operate 150 years into the future. So, on some level, this idea’s a non-starter. But it does have some good points. For example, we won’t have to build a giant phased-laser system to accelerate the craft anymore.

That’s because the sail would be so big that it would work as an actual solar sail. Launch it close to the Sun, and it could exit the Solar System at over 11,500 kilometers a second. And, since the acceleration is far more gradual, the strain on the onboard electronics would be far less than in Breakthrough Starshot’s plan.

  1. Another advantage of Heller and Hippke’s plan is that, once at Proxima Centauri, the sail would allow the craft to move around the system.
  2. If the spacecraft finds any other planets we haven’t detected, it can visit them, too.
  3. The authors suggest that a sample return would even be possible, provided people would remember to look for the hardware 300 years from now.

Perhaps more realistically, the authors point out that some extremely bright stars aren’t too distant from the Sun. With more photons to work with, a craft could be sent there with a much higher initial velocity and still decelerate enough to enter orbit.

It’s easy to look at all the problems identified by the authors and wonder “why bother?” But the reality is that we wouldn’t know for sure that these are problems if nobody did the calculations. And identifying the problems is the first step toward getting people to start thinking about workarounds or applications in which the same technology would be useful.

The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2017. DOI: (). : Calculating what it would take to park a solar sail at Alpha Centauri