JUL 16, 2018 3:35 PM PDT

A New Solar Sail Technology for Future Spacecraft?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

As astronomers look to progress humankind’s understanding of outer space and the innumerable mysteries within, advancements in technology must follow to help meet the demanding requirements of deep space missions.

One of the ways we can overcome the demanding requirements of deep space travel is with solar sail technology, which promises to virtually eliminate many of the restrictions imposed by traditional fuel reserves. But even modern solar sail technology isn’t without its limitations.

Researchers from RIT are redefining what we should expect from a solar sail.

Image Credit: NASA

Fortunately, a new development by researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) promises to address many of these limitations head-on. The proposed development involves replacing the typical reflective metallic sails with a diffractive metafilm alternative instead.

"Diffractive films may also be designed to replace heavy and failure-prone mechanical systems with lighter electro-optic controls having no moving parts," explained Grover Swartzlander, a professor at RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

Related: A solar sail spacecraft is becoming a reality

The metafilm sails could purportedly yield significant performance boosts over their predecessor. For example, less heat means less deterioration of sail materials, recycled protons equate to added momentum from the same number of protons, and better orientation yields more efficient space travel.

These are only some of the benefits, and they could be applied to numerous space missions, whether they take place next to Earth, near other planets, or outside of our solar system.

"CubeSats are becoming of great national importance for science, security, and commercial purposes," Swartzlander continued.

"The potential to raise, de-orbit or station-keep hundreds of CubeSats from low Earth orbit would be a recognized game changer that would build enthusiasm and advocacy among the growing small-satellite community of students, entrepreneurs, and aerospace scientists and engineers."

And that’s not all, Swartzlander says the metafilm sails could even be made to work with laser-based propulsion systems, such as those suggested by a Stephen Hawking-backed program known as Breakthrough Starshot.

It should be interesting to see if this new solar sail technology takes off, and furthermore, how NASA might implement it in future space exploration opportunities.

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 27, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 27, 2019
NASA Considers Building Space Telescopes in Space to Reduce Cost and Risk
Space telescopes are particularly important pieces of equipment, especially for astrophysicists, planetary scientists, and other space professionals that s...
DEC 08, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 08, 2019
SpaceX Just Resupplied the International Space Station Again
The International Space Station is poised to receive some much-needed new supplies and science experiments today, a feat made possible by a routine resuppl...
DEC 15, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 15, 2019
MAVEN Mission Connects Mars' Wind Patterns to Surface Features
NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched on November 18th, 2013, has been orbiting Mars and investigating the planet’s features for more than half a deca...
FEB 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 09, 2020
NASA's Christina Koch Returns From Space After Shattering Records
NASA astronaut Christina Koch set a new record at the end of 2019 when she spent more consecutive days in space than any other female astronaut before her....
FEB 18, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 18, 2020
Will We Ever Solve the Universe's 'Dark Matter' Mystery?
If you were to take a step back from the Milky Way and attempt to observe our universe, you’d see a plethora of bright and colorful sectors made up o...
FEB 23, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 23, 2020
InSight Will Attempt to Push Down on its Mole Instrument
NASA’s sent its Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars so that it could deploy a sui...
Loading Comments...