Feeds

Sci-fi solar sail tested in Cleveland

Get the orchestra warmed up for a space-opera

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Space missions to the sun and inner solar system could be powered by solar sail within a decade, Californian researchers claim.

Solar sails - thin sheets of material that use photons from the sun to propel craft through space - have been the stuff of science fiction for decades. Now scientists at ATK Space Systems are putting their sail cloth to the test in the world's largest vacuum chamber at NASA's Glenn Research Centre, Wired News reports.

The space simulation chamber is 122ft high and 100ft in diameter. It has been used to test radiators for the International Space Station, rocket components, and the inflatable landing bags used by NASA to protect the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on their way to the surface of Mars.

The plastic-like, reflective cloth, which is 100 times thinner than a sheet of paper, is a spin-off from technology used to develop paint for spacecraft. The researchers need to test the material in a vacuum to see how it might perform in space, so they stretch triangular sheets of the cloth over four booms that form a square, and pump all the air out. Then they see how the sails deploy and move around in different temperatures.

Eventually, the researchers say, it could be used to fly science packages direct to the Sun or other planets, without having to swing around other bodies several times to get an acceleration boost from the gravity-slingshot effect. Although the acceleration from the solar sail would be low, it would be maintained constantly, so a craft could eventually get up a reasonable velocity.

Initial flights in space are likely to use sails 130 feet across on each side of a craft. The speed and direction would be controlled by shaping the sails or changing their angle to the sun, much as with a yacht or a dingy, though if you fall out, it's a lot further to swim to the shore, of course. ®

Related stories

Shuttle grounded until July
Oracle developers - fancy a trip into space?
Space-walkers launch 'Nanosatellite'

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
'Yes, yes... YES!' Philae lands on COMET 67P
Plucky probot aces landing on high-speed space rock - emotional scenes in Darmstadt
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management
How using vulnerability assessments to identify exploitable weaknesses and take corrective action can reduce the risk of hackers finding your site and attacking it.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.