Just as a sailboat is powered by wind, solar sails employ the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need for conventional rocket propellant.
We’ve previously written about emerging sail technologies that hold the potential to make the maritime industry more sustainable and efficient. But a type of sail technology may soon also help humanity’s efforts to study outer space.
NASA has recently announced that it plans to test new solar sail technologies in space by the middle of next year. The space agency’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) will deploy an apartment-sized solar sail from a solar-sized CubeSat in Earth orbit in mid-2022. While certain types of solar sails have been previously used in space missions, the project’s aim is to gather as much valuable data as possible to refine current technologies, which are still in their nascent stage.
If you’re not familiar with what concept of a solar sail, NASA officials describe it as following: “Just as a sailboat is powered by wind in a sail, solar sails employ the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need for conventional rocket propellant.”
As reported by Space, the data from the new mission will inform the design of future, larger-scale systems that can be used for asteroid searching, monitoring the sun’s activity, or powering astronaut communications systems in deep space.
Additionally, the mission will showcase the deployment of a “composite boom” solar sail, demonstrating a lightweight and durable material that could make future missions more cost-effective by reducing mass, according to NASA. Other benefits include a longer mission lifespan, as propulsion systems are limited by the amount of fuel available.