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Solar Sails

Solar Sails

Solar sails were first proposed by Kepler almost four hundred years ago. The idea of a solar sail is use a large expanse of a thin, light film to “catch” the pressure of photons in light and use that pressure to accelerate a space craft in a desired direction.

Progress at NASA:
A Brief History of Solar Sails – [nasa.gov]

Two very special missions are planned for the near future; both aim to deploy a solar sail to harness the power of sunlight. NASA’s NanoSail-D is a small solar sail slated for launch as early as August 2008. The Planetary Society’s Cosmos 2 does not yet have a specific launch target date. Its goal is to make “a controlled flight under sunlight pressure.”

Sailing Ships in Space? Maybe. – [nasa.gov]

Although the idea of “sailing” through space has been around since the 17th century, it’s never quite come together. Both visionary astronomer Johannes Kepler and Russian space pioneer Friederich Tsander proposed the concept of sailing though space using only the force provided by the energy in sunlight. But at the time, materials strong, thin and durable enough to withstand the harsh radiation environment of space didn’t exist.

NanoSail-D Latest News – [nasa.gov]

The Planetary Society
Solar Sailing – [planetary.org]

A solar sail is a spacecraft without an engine, sped along its way by the direct pressure of light particles from the Sun. The particles, known as photons, reflect off the spacecraft’s giant mirror-like sails, pushing the craft forward. Because a solar sail carries no fuel, and in principle can keep accelerating over almost unlimited distances, it is the only technology known today that could one day take us to the stars.

What Is a Solar Sail? – [planetary.org]

In order for sunlight to provide sufficient pressure to propel a spacecraft forward, a solar sail must capture as much Sunlight as possible. This means that the surface of the sail must be big – very big.

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