More solar sail tests coming

Nasa, in conjunction with two engineering firms, will kick off another round of tests on solar sails, which some believe could help propel spacecraft in the future.

A solar sail functions like a regular sailboat sail. But instead of wind, the solar sail is bombarded by photons, particles of light from the Sun. The sail is also extremely thin, between 40 to 100 times thinner than a sheet of paper. Ideally, these sails will allow satellites or space stations to move and perform maneuvers without using conventional rockets, which consume lots of fuel, quickly run out of said fuel, and cost a lot of money.

Starting April 18, two 20-meter solar sails will be put into a vacuum chamber to simulate the conditions of space. The tests will continue through July. Nasa has conducted similar tests in the past two years.

The sail designs were developed by L'Garde of Tustin, Calif. and Goleta, Calif.-based ATK Space Systems. The tests will take place at Nasa facilities in Huntsville, Alabama.

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    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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