Despite its decades old theoretical foundation and all the efforts of space researchers, there have been surprisingly few attempts to build and fly large solar sails in space. Germany’s DLR took particular interest in solar sail technology in the 1990s and fabricated one of the first large-scale ground-based engineering model sails. The Russians demonstrated in space a spinning 20-meter mirror, called Znamya, from their Progress resupply vehicle after it completed its mission to the Mir space station in 1993. Though technically a mirror, the technologies used were essentially the same that would be required to build a solar sail. The Planetary Society, working with the Russians, developed a sail and would have demonstrated the technology in space had the rocket not failed during a launch attempt in 2005. The Japanese are also developing solar sails. In August 2004, an S-310 suborbital rocket launched from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, deployed 2 types of solar sail materials to validate both the materials and their deployment in space. The Japanese sail experiment was a success, though it was not a demonstration of a free-flying solar sail that could be used for deep-space exploration. In 2005, NASA built and tested on the ground two 20-meter solar sails, each using very different technical approaches.
KeywordsAreal Density Solar Sail Reflective Layer Emerge Technology Color Insert
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