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NASA awards $2 million to advance rainbow-coloured solar sail project

As a part of its Revolutionary Superior Ideas programme, NASA has given a serious award to a group engaged on photo voltaic sails that may transfer in any path utilizing ridges that diffract gentle like prisms do


27 Could 2022

Diffractive photo voltaic sails depicted in a conceptual illustration

MacKenzi Martin

Funding of $2 million has gone to researchers creating a brand new kind of photo voltaic sail as a part of NASA’s Revolutionary Superior Ideas (NIAC) programme, which backs initiatives which have the potential to remodel future missions.

Usually, solar sails work by reflecting daylight – every photon, or particle of sunshine, that bounces off the skinny, shiny materials imparts a small quantity of momentum to the craft. One massive limitation is that if you wish to transfer in any path aside from straight away from the solar, you need to rotate the whole sail, so such craft aren’t notably agile.

Amber Dubill at Johns Hopkins College in Maryland and her group have developed an answer to this downside. They’re engaged on a sail product of a diffractive materials, one that may bounce gentle in varied instructions with out having to be rotated. It does this by way of tiny ridges within the materials, the orientation of which may be modified by working an electrical present via the sail. The ensuing sail would have a rippling rainbow look because the ridges act like prisms.

When the sunshine bounces sideways, it could push the whole spacecraft to the aspect slightly than straight forwards. “Even a small sideways kick seems to be important if you’re making an attempt to thrust in a path that might be tough or not possible to do by bodily rotating the whole sail,” says NIAC science adviser Ron Turner.

Dubill and her group have proposed a mission on which to make use of their new photo voltaic sail. The spacecraft would use a sail to get to a polar orbit around the sun and observe its high and backside, which is tough to do with extra conventional spacecraft.

The researchers plan to check varied supplies for a way effectively they work within the sail and in house, whereas additionally creating trajectories and devices for the photo voltaic mission. If all goes effectively, on the finish of the two-year NIAC award the group can be able to ship a fleet of iridescent spacecraft across the solar.

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