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Rocket Lab to announce new NASA solar sail technology by April 24th

Rocket Lab to announce new NASA solar sail technology by April 24th


NASA's Solar Sail mission, aimed at testing new space travel materials in Earth's orbit, is scheduled to launch by April 24 at the earliest, the space agency said on Thursday (April 11). Announced.

The main objective of the mission, named Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3), is to test solar sail deployment using a new composite boom. The composite boom is a tube-like material that holds four very thin triangular sheets spread out and taut. These sheets together form a kite-like solar sail. The ACS3 boom lifts a solar sail from a microwave-sized satellite to the size of a small apartment in less than 30 minutes and is stiffer and lighter than previous technology, NASA said in a statement. The spacecraft will be launched aboard Rocket Lab's Electron rocket in Mahia, New Zealand.

Solar sails, which use sunlight to propel payloads in the same way that yachts use wind, have gained momentum in recent years as an affordable alternative to traditional chemically propelled rockets. When light particles called photons strike the solar sail, their momentum is transferred to the solar sail. Although slight, such subtle pushes occur consistently and help spacecraft cruise through space, and over time they can also accelerate to speeds achievable with conventional rockets. Astrobiologists believe solar sails could be valuable in the search for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. These two ice-covered worlds are thought to contain an environment friendly to life in the hidden underground oceans that we know of.

RELATED: LightSail 2 spacecraft finishes solar sailing mission in a blaze of glory

Previous missions, such as the Planetary Society's remarkable Lightsail 2, have already demonstrated that small spacecraft can indeed use solar sails to travel millions of miles and change their orbits as needed. However, these missions use metal booms, which are heavy and can deform unpredictably due to rapid temperature changes. This is known to occur in space as well. ACS3, on the other hand, is four times larger than LightSail and uses a lightweight boom made of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) that is strong enough to hold the solar sail taut, yet compact for launch. NASA said it is flexible enough to be folded into two.

“The 7-meter deployable boom can be rolled into a shape that fits in your hand,” Alan Rose, the mission's lead systems engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said in a statement. “We hope that the new technology tested on this spacecraft will inspire others to use it in ways we never thought possible.”

Once the spacecraft reaches a predetermined orbit 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) above the Earth's surface, it begins a 25-minute process of deploying a compound boom that spans the sail's diagonal. Assuming all goes as planned, the mission will also test changing the spacecraft's orbit via the solar sail, a maneuver that could provide useful data for future missions. NASA said.

Once deployed, the solar sail will measure approximately 80 square meters (860 square feet), roughly the size of six standard parking spaces. The space agency predicts that the solar sail will be large enough that its shiny, reflective surface will shine as brightly on Earth as Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.




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