A giant solar sail in space

The launch of the NASA technology demonstrator is scheduled for 2014.

"It will be seven times larger than any sail tested in space, while being 10 times more light!" enthuses the U.S. space agency on its website. Indeed, the dimensions of the proposed solar sail have something dreamer leaves any sailor. Almost 38 meters wide, with a total area of just over 1200 m 2! And yet, "Dr. epliƩe this veil occupies no more space than a washing machine and weighs about thirty pounds" figure NASA.

The original method of propulsion is to catch up on the sail of photons emitted by the sun. The latter, when they come to strike the surface, transmit it a part of their energy is converted into motion. Yet despite its huge size, the sail cannot deploy a power of 0.01 Newton, figure Nasa. In other words, only 1 gram of thrust! Ridiculous? Not necessarily.

A small but continuous thrust
In space, because of the absence of an atmosphere, almost no frictional force is likely to slow down a moving object. Thus, by applying a force, however small, for a very long period of time, it is possible to achieve much higher than that of a conventional rocket engine pushes hard, but for a very short time speeds. While sailing captures solar photons, it is able to exercise constantly thrust.

The concept itself is not new. Already in 2005, the organization "The Planetary Society" had attempted to orbit a solar sail called Cosmos 1. However, a problem starter led the project to fail. But two years later, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) successfully launched sail Ikaros. And the latter are permitted a push of a tenth of a gram!

It called "Sunjammer project" currently under development monster is merely an extension of another project of solar sail successfully by NASA. Indeed, in a first draft "NanoSail-D2", the U.S. space agency put into orbit on 19 November 2010, a veil of ten square meters. After 240 days of sailing in space, it has completed its mission by consuming the atmosphere on September 17, 2011.

A versatile engine
The objective of this first mission of NASA was then only validate the propulsion technique and the method of deployment in space. With the giant soft Sunjammer Project, NASA engineers will be able to test the concept on a larger scale, and in particular to study its performance in terms of altitude control, stability, and the ability of the structure to s' correct orientation.

NASA plans for this type of propulsion variety of missions ranging from the collection of waste space for exploration of deep space missions through the space weather stations can monitor the electromagnetic storms and eruptions in the surface of the sun.

This giant technology demonstrator to be launched in early 2014 by a Falcon 9 private American company Space X.


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