NASA's Advanced Composite Solar Sail System or ACS3 will officially deploy a solar sail the size of an average apartment right from a toaster-sized CubeSat into the Earth's orbit in the middle of 2022.
The mission will provide a refinery of technologies that are associated with solar sails.
NASA's Solar Sail Technologies
According to Space.com, similar sails have already been used in space before, and the most recent one was used in Planetary Society's LightSail 2 mission. The sail has spent more than two years in the Earth's orbit.
NASA recently wrote a statement saying that similar to how a sailboat uses wind as its power, solar sails use the sunlight's pressure for its propulsion, eliminating the need for traditional rocket propellant.
The data that the mission will collect will have a lot of perks. It can be used for large-scale systems of asteroid searching, inform NASA of the future's design, monitor the sun's activities, and even powering communications among astronauts and NASA in deep space.
NASA's ACS3 Mission
Space.com also reported that the ACS3 mission had been an active development ever since 2018. In 2020, NASA decided to go with NanoAvionics to build the mission's satellite bus, but the contract amount was not disclosed to the public.
NanoAvionics is a spinoff company of another group at Vilnius University. The group built a satellite called LutanicaSAT-1, transmitting the initial Lithuanian message across space back in 2014.
According to NASA, this new mission will have the opportunity to showcase the deployment of a specific solar sail that is considered a "composite boom." It will demonstrate a durable yet lightweight material, which means that it would save on mass and launch costs for future missions.
The entirely deployed square sail will support four booms spanning 30 feet or 9 meters on each side.
NASA's Deployable Composite Booms
Furtheremore, the report noted that NASA's deployable composite booms came from one of the organization's projects at Langley Research Center, which studies how to deploy massive systems, covering solar sails, on tiny satellites.
The booms are made from a polymer raw material that has already been reinforced with carbon fiber. As a result, the booms are 75% lighter than traditional metal booms and significantly less susceptible to heat-induced warping.
This mission will be NASA's first time to use composite booms, deployment systems, and sail packing in the Earth's orbit. The space agency further said in their report that the composite material could be used for compact stowage, but it will remain solid and lightweight once it is unrolled.
Meanwhile, the unrolling system will contain an "innovative tape-spool boom extraction system," which is supposed to lessen the risk of jamming.
The Future of Solar Sail Technology
Solar sail technology is still beginning to prove itself in the industry, but it has already shown numerous potential benefits.
NASA confirmed that one of the most significant benefits that solar system technology offers the space community is that it could provide a longer mission lifespan.
Its electric and chemical propulsion systems are limited by fuel availability, which can be fully optimized.
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Written by Fran Sanders