NASA next solar sail mission to make solar sail technology a mainstream technology option

The Solar Sail Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM) by NASA and L’Garde will advance the state of the art of solar sailing. The end goal of this mission is the deployment, flight, and navigation of a mission capable solar sail to demonstrably prove the efficacy of solar sails. This proposed mission will definitively advance the technology of solar sailing for use by future mission planners.

This will be a definitive demonstration of a mission capable solar sail. This TDM aims to boost the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the L’Garde solar sail from ~6 to ~9. The four main objectives of the mission are:

* Demonstrate segmented deployment of a solar sail with ~4X the area of that vacuum tested at Plum Brook, “cookie cut” from the center of a much larger sail.
* Demonstrate attitude control plus passive stability and trim using beam-tip vanes.
* Execute a navigation sequence with mission-capable accuracy.
* Fly to and Maintain Position at L1 and pole sitter positions

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. The technology also could provide an economical solution to removing some of the more than 8,000 pieces of orbital launch debris ringing the planet; conduct station-keeping operations, or hover at high latitudes above Earth for communications and observation; and could drive a variety of propellantless, deep-space exploration and supply ferrying missions.

The project will hold its preliminary design review in 2012. The Solar Sail Demonstration will launch on a Falcon 9 as early as 2014.

This solar sail will be over seven times bigger than any solar sail deployed 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.

Solar sails offer many potential game-changing mission capabilities including the following:

* Debris collection and removal from orbit. Debris can be captured and removed from orbit over a period of years using the small solar-sail thrust.
* De-orbit of spent satellites. Solar sails can be integrated into satellite payloads so that the satellite can be de-orbited at the end of its mission.
* Creating pseudo-Lagrange points by cancelling some solar gravitational pull with the sails. As an example, the GeoStorm project considers locating solar storm warning satellites three times further from the Earth increasing warning time from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
* Providing synchronous satellites at non-equatorial latitudes, such as the “pole-sitter” project. This allows the northern and southern latitudes to gain the advantages of synchronous satellites.
* Providing deep space propulsion. Payloads free of the Earth’s pull can be accelerated to the other planets, or out of the solar system, such as those proposed for Project Encounter.

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