NASA, in collaboration with L’Garde Inc. in California, has helped to develop what is claimed to be the largest solar sail ever built in the world. It is to be noted that solar sails have also been developed and launched into space in the past. In 2010, both NASA and Japan launched two solar sails independently into orbit for space exploration. However, this time NASA is being more ambitious than ever by building a solar sail that measures 13,000 square feet. The largest solar sail has aptly been named the Sunjammer, inspired by a short story written by Arthur C. Clarke.
Sunjammer Solar Sail – Aimbition
The solar sail is due to be launched into space in 2014. It will travel as far out into space as three million kilometers away from the Earth. The designers are paying utmost attention to the stage where the solar sail is supposed to open up in space. In its folded form, the solar sail seems no larger than a washing machine. However, when launched in space, it will have to unfurl in a precisely calculated manner to operate effectively.
Advantages of Project
Once the solar sail is successfully deployed into its orbit, it will serve a number of important purposes. Firstly, it will offer new views of the Sun to which astronomers have not yet been exposed. During its orbit, the solar sail will be able to send images of the Sun’s surface that have not yet been studied by scientists. In this regard, NASA is seeking collaboration from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They will be better able to study solar phenomena such as solar flares and solar storms.
Sunjammer – A Pollution Killer
Secondly, it will also aid in the study of space weather. The Sunjammer will also help to reduce/kill the effects of space pollution by collecting and getting rid of space rubbish such as used up satellites and debris from space stations. Furthermore, the solar sail will also be used to make memorial space flights and also to visit asteroids that cannot be reached with conventional fuel-based spacecraft.
State of the Art
Several technological breakthroughs are encapsulated in the development of the solar sail. The chemicals giant DuPont has worked to manufacture a coating of Kapton for the solar sail. The body of the sail has been coated with a layer of Kapton which is only five microns in thickness.