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“solar sailing”
NASA Selects 5 Solar Sail R&D Projects for Funding
Illustration of NASA’s NEA Scout with the solar sail deployed as it flies by its asteroid destination. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected five research and development projects for funding that are focused on improving the performance of solar sails, which use solar photons (sunlight) to propel themselves.

NASA selected the five projects under the space agency’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which partners companies with academia. Each Phase I award is worth up to $150,000.

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  • June 11, 2022
French Startup Gama Raises $2.2 Million to Develop Solar Sails

PARIS (Gama PR) — Gama, a French aerospace company, has raised 2 million euros [USD $2.2 million] with the French Public Investment Bank (BPI), the French Space Agency (CNES) and leading international angel investors to deploy a solar sail in space and revolutionize space transportation.

A solar sail allows a spacecraft to be powered solely by sunlight. This new propulsion technology enables speeds never reached before to explore our Solar System and beyond.

This first round of funding will finance a demonstration mission: the deployment of a solar sail from a satellite launched by SpaceX. Other missions will follow.

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  • March 28, 2022
NASA Funds Breakthrough Research into Extreme Solar Sailing for Interstellar Missions
Credit: Artur Davoyan

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Artur Davoyan
University of California, Los Angeles

As of date, deep space exploration has been hindered by the limitations of existing propulsion technologies. In contrast, solar sails appear to allow a low cost pathway to high speed and ubiquitous exploration of the outer solar system and interstellar space. By performing a slingshot maneuver in the vicinity of the sun, just ~2-5 solar radii distant from the sun, solar sails can propel light-weight CubeSat class spacecraft to near-relativistic speeds, >0.1% of the speed of light (>300 km/s or >60AU/year characteristic velocities). Such a technology would markedly transform space exploration, enabling fast missions to distant worlds, effectively turning our sun into a launch pad.

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  • April 14, 2021
LightSail 2 Enters Extended Mission Phase
LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Calif. (The Planetary Society PR) — One year after launching into space, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has completed its primary mission phase and is embarking on an extended mission dedicated to further advancing solar sailing technology. 

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  • July 5, 2020
Planetary Society Says LightSail 2 Demonstrated Flight by Light

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 […]

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  • August 1, 2019
Picture and Animations of LightSail 2 Deployed

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 View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square […]

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  • July 24, 2019
LightSail 2 Deploys Solar Sail

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 […]

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  • July 24, 2019
Planetary Society to Deploy LightSail 2 on Tuesday

LightSail 2 Mission UpdateThe 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 […]

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  • July 22, 2019
LightSail 2 Phones Home to Mission Control

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 […]

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  • July 2, 2019
NIAC Phase II Award: Diffractive Lightsails

Diffractive lightsails (Credit: Grover Swartzlander)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase II Award: Up to $500,000 for 2 Years

Diffractive Lightsails
Grover Swartzlander
Rochester Institute of Technology

Solar sails are propelled by the free and abundant momentum afforded by sunlight. Propulsion and navigation are achieved by directing reflected or transmitted light away from the natural direction of sunlight. The magnitude and direction of this radiation pressure force depends on factors such as the light deflection angle, the angle of the sail with respect to the sun, and the distance from the sun. Sail areas spanning hundreds of square meters have been envisioned for nearly 100 years for a wide range of space missions that are not practical for chemical rockets.


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  • April 15, 2019