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Solar sails

Solar sails are a form of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure (solar pressure) of a combination of light weight and high speed ejected gases from a star to push ultra-thin mirrors to high speeds. Light sails could also be driven by energy beams that extend their range of operations, which is strictly beam sailing rather than solar sailing. Solar sails use a phenomenon that has proven, measured effect on spacecraft. Solar sails affect all spacecrafts example a typical spacecraft going around Mars will be displaced by more than 1000 Km by solar pressure and also, attitude affects are also large due to solar pressure. These effects are well accounted for during the design and development of actual space crafts. The total force exerted on a solar sail may be only one newton or less than that, making it a low thrust space craft just like electric propulsion.

History of Concept:
1610 - Johannes Kepler based on his observation of the Halleys comet. He observed the tail of the comet points away. Thus, suggesting solar power to drive space vehicles. 1861-64 Maxwells theory of electromagnetic fields showed that light has momentum and it can exert pressure on objects. This provides a theoretical basis for this concept 1864 - Statement of Jules Verne in a book, that one day space vehicles capable of reaching near light velocities using light and electricity as the mechanical means of propulsion 1899-1901 Pyotr Lebedev confirms the fact that light can exert pressure From Einsteins theory it can be derived that Friedrich Zander proposes the idea of using very thin sheets of mirrors using the pressure exerted by the sunlight. 1976 first formal technology and design effort by the jet propulsion laboratory in a proposed mission to rendezvous with Halleys comet.

Physical principle:
The concept behind solar sails is similar to the sails used to propel ships i.e. the wind pushes sail boats in water, instead of utilizing momentum in this case, we utilize the momentum of photons which strike these ultra-thin sails (40 to 50 thinner this paper) and thus produce a small force which propels the space-craft forward. The continuous photonic pressure provides enough thrust to perform maneuvers, such as hovering at a fixed point in space and rotating the space vehicles plane of orbit. Solar radiation exerts a pressure on the sail due to reflection and a small fraction that is absorbed. This absorbed energy heats the sail, which reradiates the energy from the front and rear surfaces.

Momentum = mass velocity = m c

Specular reflection = 8.22 N/m2 (90% efficiency) Force on the sail is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the sun Square of the cosine of the angle between the sail force vector and the radial from the sun

Have the possibility of operating at low costs Long operating lifetimes Very few moving parts No need to carry any propellant Have the potential of delivering payloads many times The continuous photonic pressure provides enough thrust to perform maneuvers, such as hovering at a fixed point in space and rotating the space vehicles plane of orbit, which would require too much propellant for conventional rocket systems

In earth operating conditions, the value of drag and the pressure effects to become effective, the threshold distance is 800 km. thus we have to operate the space-craft beyond this altitude. Creating such thin films of material and its ability have demonstrated considerable strength and robustness is possible, but to make such thin films capable of withstanding the high loads coming during launch is very difficult. No existing or mature technology, difficulty to manufacture such small sails is difficult. Very low THRUST values achieved by this process and hence comes under the category of low thrust

Solar sail propulsion is a leading candidate for missions that require a space vehicle to complete a large variety of maneuvers, such as changing orbital elements or orientation, hovering at a fixed point, or for missions that require constant vehicle thrust to achieve science objectives. These propulsion technology systems eventually could lead to missions to study the Sun and its heliospherethe magnetized bubble of plasma around the Sunthat are impossible using todays technology. Solar sail research is part of NASAs In-Space Propulsion Technology Program, which is managed by the Science Mission Directorate in Washington and implemented by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The programs objective is to develop in-space propulsion technologies that can benefit near and mid-term NASA space science missions by significantly reducing cost, mass and travel times. The MESSENGER probe en route to mercury is using light pressure reacting against its solar panels to perform fine trajectory corrections. By changing the angle of the solar panels relative to the sun, the amount of solar radiation pressure hitting the craft can be varied. Thus, this leads to desired amount of corrections required to maintain the attitude of the space-craft. Interstellar flight: A method is proposed which can move large sails which are powered by laser beams which push these light sails to near light speeds. Japan's JAXA successfully tested IKAROS in 2010. The goal was to deploy and control the sail and for the first time determining the minute orbit perturbations caused by light pressure

Solar Sails developed for Drexler solar sail was a thin aluminum film with a baseline thickness of 0.1 micrometers. To be produced in space system using vapor deposition The most common material in current design is 2 micrometer kapton film. It resists the heat of a pass close to the sun and still remains reasonably strong. Kapton is a polymer material Carbon fibers have shown in research to be better materials than Kapton Molecular manufacturing which is proposed to be possible in the future has the potential of creating materials which are of thickness about wavelength of light. Their weight is proposed to be 0.1g/m2. Making them 30 times lighter than any of the current materials.

NASA team had developed a sail mission called Nano Sail D which was lost in a launch failure aboard Falcon 1. The second version of the previous nano sail was launched successfully and deployed in low earth orbit.(mission requirement included data on deploying solar sails and use of solar sails as an actual way of propulsion)