NASA’s solar sailing invention

Adrienne SorensenJuly 31, 20186540


NASA’s solar sailing invention 

Spacecraft fitted with sails and propelled by the sun are no longer science fiction space missions. A Rochester Institute of Technology researcher is taking solar sailing to the next level with advanced photonic materials. 

Metamaterials introduction 

Metamaterials is a new category of man made structures with unorthodox properties that could be the secret ingredient to making solar sails. Replacing reflective metallic sails with diffractive metafilm sails that’s steer reflected near-Earth, interplanetary and interstellar space travel. It could also be design to substitute heavy and failure-prone mechanical systems with lighter electro-optic controls having no moving parts. Swartzlander is leading a study supported by phase one funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The nine-month, $125,000 award supports development of visionary technology   to revolutionize future space exploration. CubeSats are increasing gaining importance for science, security and commercial purposes. The potential to raise, de-orbit or station-keep CubeSats from low Earth orbit would be a game changer. NEA Scout will be the first CubeSat science mission having attached solar sails. It is one of 13 satellites part of the science and technology investigations of NASA's Exploration Mission-1. When deployed, NEA Scout's aluminum coated polyimide sail will reflect sunlight to propel the reconnaissance robotic spacecraft on its two-year cruise.

Diffractive metafilm sails are ready for take off

Diffractive metafilm sails could resolve restrictions of reflective metallic sails;  overheating, inefficient use of photons and excessive tilt of the spacecraft. The materials can; 

1. Lower absorption: Its surfaces  eliminates issues in the metallic-coatings, that heat and compromise sail substrates. 
2. Reuse of photons: Would recycle transmitted photons converting them to solar-electric power or diffracting the light twice for added momentum. 
3. Improved orientation: It maintains a more efficient position facing the sun, allowing highly efficient propulsion and generation of solar electric power on embedded photovoltaic cells. 

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