In a development that could have profound implications for how humanity conducts space travel, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on February 7 that its first large-scale solar sail, known as the Sunjammer, will be taking flight next year.
This unique design relies on the forward pressure created by solar radiation to gently accelerate it. While slow at first, spacecraft equipped with such a sail can eventually reach or even exceed speeds currently achieved by modern rocket-based vessels. The sail, according to NASA, is approximately 124 feet on each side, or 13,000 square feet. With a calculated payload weight of 70 pounds, this technology could enable NASA to launch more energy-efficient missions into space.
Once in orbit, the craft is expected to conduct experimental maneuvers that will test its manual controls and stability mechanisms. The agency also reported that it will be testing a new generation of navigation systems as well.
“Once proven, solar sail technology could enable a host of versatile space missions, including flying an advanced space-weather warning system to more quickly and accurately alert satellite operators and utilities on Earth of geomagnetic storms caused by coronal mass ejections from the sun,” NASA stated in a press release.
One usage openly theorized by the federal organization is that solar sails could be a low-cost way to remove debris from orbit. Additionally, the lack of propellant used in the design would reduce the amount of pollution that takes place around the Earth, which poses a risk to both spacecraft and the International Space Station.
These developments highlight the fact that researchers and scientists are working on ways to institute energy-efficient technologies in literally out-of-this-world ways. For more updates on this and other topics, continue reading the LifeIsGreen.com blog.