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
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
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.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
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?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.