U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Solar Sails Pass NASA Tests
August 18, 2004
The solar sail is an alternative to rocket fuel.
Photo credit: L'Garde
NASA engineers and industry partners have completed tests on
variations of solar sail technology, a solar propulsion system that
could enable future deep space missions. According to the NASA
announcement, released August 9th, the technology bounces a stream
of solar particles off giant reflective sails made of lightweight
material 40 to 100 times thinner than a piece of writing paper. The
continuous pressure provides sufficient thrust to perform maneuvers,
such as hovering at a point in space, which would require too much
propellant for conventional rocket systems. Solar sails are about
the size of a football field and are supported by booms, just like
sea ship sails. NASA's industry partners developing space sails
include L'Garde Inc, and Able Engineering. For more details on the
sails and the tests, see NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center's press release.
For videos, photos, drawings and details on testing of solar sails,
see L'Garde's Web site.