Ultra-thin Sail Could Speed Journey to Other Star Systems

Graphene light sail (Credit: GrapheneSail team)

PARIS (ESA PR) — A tiny sail made of the thinnest material known – one carbon-atom-thick graphene – has passed initial tests designed to show that it could be a viable material to make solar sails for spacecraft.

Light sails are one of the most promising existing space propulsion technologies that could enable us to reach other star systems within many decades.

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NASA’s New Solar Sail System to be Tested On-Board NanoAvionics Satellite Bus

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System on NanoAvionics’ 12U CubeSat. (Credit: NanoAvionics)

COLUMBIA, Ill. (NanoAvionics PR) — NanoAvionics has been selected to build a 12U  nanosatellite bus for an in-orbit demonstration of  NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3). This a result of a contract between NASA Ames Research Center and AST for a 12U bus to carry NASA’s  payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) including an approximately 800 square foot (74 square meter) composite boom and solar sail system.  

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NIAC Award: Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Image depicting the Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration concept. (Credits: Artur Davoyan)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Artur Davoyan
University of California, Los Angeles

Understanding the beginnings of the Universe and life itself is NASA’s long term vision and one of humanities’ grand challenges. Missions to the edge of our solar system and to space between stars in our galaxy – the interstellar medium – are of a great promise to shed light on these questions.

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Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 Named One of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019

The Sun rises over the horizon in this image from LightSail 2 captured on 28 September 2019. The sail appears curved due to the spacecraft’s 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Calif., November 21, 2019 (Planetary Society PR) — The Planetary Society, the world’s largest independent space interest organization, is proud to announce their crowdfunded solar sailing spacecraft, LightSail 2, has been recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019.

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Planetary Society Says LightSail 2 Demonstrated Flight by Light

LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

The Planetary Society says that its LightSail 2 satellite has demonstrated the ability to change its orbit by the power of light.

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.

“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”

The milestone makes LightSail 2 the first spacecraft to use solar sailing for propulsion in Earth orbit, the first small spacecraft to demonstrate solar sailing, and just the second-ever solar sail spacecraft to successfully fly, following Japan’s IKAROS, which launched in 2010. LightSail 2 is also the first crowdfunded spacecraft to successfully demonstrate a new form of propulsion.

“For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun. The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.”

Picture and Animations of LightSail 2 Deployed

LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:48 PDT (18:48 UTC). Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2’s dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected.

LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 1
Credit: The Planetary Society

View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 1, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.

LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 2
Credit: The Planetary Society

View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 2, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.

LightSail 2 Deploys Solar Sail

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

Update: Wednesday, 24 July 2019

10:00 PDT

Flight controllers successfully downloaded partial imagery from LightSail 2 this morning that confirm the solar sail is fully deployed. Upon completion of image downlink during subsequent ground station passes, The Planetary Society will issue a full story.

New data points from LightSail 2 telemetry show the solar sail was in its expected orientation during ground station overflights. Once the mission team has completed imagery downlink, they will move on to stored telemetry files, which will allow them to more thoroughly evaluate the sail’s performance.

Planetary Society to Deploy LightSail 2 on Tuesday

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

LightSail 2 Mission Update
The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is almost ready to go solar sailing. 

Mission officials today cleared the spacecraft for a possible sail deployment attempt on Tuesday, 23 July 2019, during a ground station pass that starts at roughly 11:22 PDT (18:22 UTC). A backup pass is available the following orbit starting at 13:07 PDT (20:07 UTC). These times may change slightly as new orbit predictions become available. 

Live sail deployment coverage will be available at planetary.org/live. A video and audio stream from mission control, located at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, will be available during ground station passes. Rolling updates will also be posted on the page for context.

LightSail 2 Phones Home to Mission Control

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

LightSail 2 Mission Update
July 2, 2019

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft sprang loose from its Prox-1 carrier vehicle as planned today, and sent its first signals back to mission control at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California.

The CubeSat, about the size of a loaf of bread, was scheduled to leave Prox-1 precisely 7 days after both spacecraft successfully flew to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Following deployment from its spring-loaded enclosure known as a P-POD, LightSail 2 deployed its radio antenna and began transmitting health and status data, as well as a morse code beacon indicating its call sign. The mission team received LightSail 2’s first signals on 2 July at 01:34 PDT (08:34 UTC), as the spacecraft passed over Cal Poly.

“The Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft did its job perfectly, delivering LightSail 2 to the desired orbit for solar sailing,” said LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer. “Receiving the initial radio signal from LightSail 2 is an important milestone, and the flight team is excited to begin mission operations.”

“We’re all very happy—after years of preparation, we are flying an operational spacecraft!” added Bruce Betts, LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist.











NASA Tests Solar Sail for CubeSat that Will Study Near-Earth Asteroids

The NEA Scout solar sail is deployed at the NeXolve facility in Huntsville, Alabama. (Credits: NASA/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a small satellite designed to study asteroids close to Earth, performed a successful deployment test June 28 of the solar sail that will launch on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The test was performed in an indoor clean room at the NeXolve facility in Huntsville, Alabama.

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NIAC Phase I Awards for Advanced Propulsion

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at three Phase I awards focused on advanced propulsion.

PROCSIMA: Diffractionless Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions
Chris Limbach
Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station

Advanced Diffractive MetaFilm Sailcraft
Grover Swartzlander
Rochester Institute of Technology

Radioisotope Positron Propulsion
Ryan Weed
Positron Dynamics

Each award is worth up to $125,000 for a nine-month study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid CubeSat Goes Full Sail

When fully deployed, NEA Scout’s solar sail is the length of a school bus. This sail is used to reflect sunlight to use as propulsion for the satellite as it moves through space, minimizing the need for fuel and paving the way for deep-space exploration missions. (Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.  (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a small satellite the size of a shoebox, designed to study asteroids close to Earth, performed a full-scale solar sail deployment test at ManTech NeXolve’s facility in Huntsville, Alabama, Sept. 13. The test was performed in an indoor clean room to ensure the deployment mechanism’s functionality after recent environmental testing.

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NASA Looks to Commercialize Solar Sail Technology

A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)
A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)

NASA CubeSat-Scale Solar Sail for Space Propulsion
Solicitation Number: NNM16042116
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office: Marshall Space Flight Center
Location: Office of Procurement

Introduction

A cubesat-scale solar sail propulsion system is being developed at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to provide propulsion for a 6U interplanetary CubeSat to be used for the Near Earth Asteroid Scout (NEAS) project. NASA MSFC desires for the solar sail technology and design being developed for the NEAS mission to be commercially available after the completion and delivery of the flight system hardware in 2018. To further that goal, NASA MSFC seeks to provide the solar sail propulsion system design to interested commercial entities. It is anticipated that there may be follow-on missions using the NEA Scout sail system following successful completion of the NEA Scout project.

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