NASA prepares to test a new solar sail in space

On April 23, an Electron rocket is to be launched from the cosmodrome in Māhia, New Zealand. There are two cargoes on board, one of which is ACS3, an experimental NASA satellite equipped with a next-generation solar sail.

The ACS3 satellite after the deployment of the solar sail (concept). Source: NASA/Aero Animation/Ben Schweighart

Solar sail is a film that allows a spacecraft to use the pressure of sunlight to accelerate. Despite the overall attractiveness of the concept, several factors hinder its mass implementation. One of them is the restrictions on the material and structure of their booms, which act as masts.

But NASA is going to change the rules of the game. And the ACS3 satellite should help it in this. It was built by the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System company based on the Cubesat (12U) platform. The main purpose of the spacecraft is to test a new composite boom made of flexible polymer and carbon fiber, which is tougher and lighter than previous designs. ACS3 should deploy it, after which engineers hope to test the solar sail in action.

The flight plan assumes that ACS3 will be launched by the Electron rocket into a 1000-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. Then the spacecraft will begin to open the sail, the surface area of which is 80 m2. The whole process will be recorded by cameras installed on it, which will monitor its shape and symmetry. If all goes well, after opening the sail, ACS3 can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye. According to some estimates, its brightness may be comparable to that of Sirius.

The success of the test may pave the way for the emergence of a next generation of space sailboats equipped with much larger sails with an area of up to 2000 m2. Such vehicles can be used for missions operating in the inner Solar System.

Earlier, we talked about the project of a solar sail spacecraft designed to explore Mercury.

According to

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