The term “solar sailing” was first coined by Arthur C. Clarke in the 1964 book “Sunjammer” but the roots of the concept can be traced back centuries.
“Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes.” ~ Johannes Kepler, 17th century astronomer
It’s the type of vision that spawns realities unimaginable to most, but it’s a vision that has come true in recent years and that will receive its biggest test as early as 2014, according to NASA. The sail utilizes the “currents” of the Sun’s energy to propel it through space much the same way that wind pushes a sail boat across the ocean. NASA’s project, nicknamed Sunjammer in honor of its conceptual genesis, will put a 13,000 square foot sail into space. It sounds big, but once collapsed it’s the size of a dishwasher and weighs 70 lbs.
This sort of technology opens the doors to solve many problems in space, including clean up work of the thousands of dormant satellites and other space debris, fuel-free deep space exploration, solar storm monitoring, and station-maintenance missions. Here are the key mission facts:
- The L’Garde Technology Demonstration Mission solar sail will have seven times the area (1200m^2) of the largest sail ever flown before in space.
- At just over 70 pounds, this solar sail demonstrator will weigh 10 times less than the largest sail ever flown in space.
- The L’Garde solar sail will produce a maximum thrust of approximately 0.01 newton, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of a “pink packet” of artificial sweetener.
- This solar sail demonstrator is truly propellantless — it will use control vanes for attitude control.