Unlocking the Mysteries of Deep Space with Solar Sail Advancements

New concepts could expand human exploration of the solar system more quickly than ever.

The APPLE concept is a new type of spacecraft power system that will open previously inaccessible parts of the solar system to human exploration and make a range of rapid transit missions possible. Credit: Aerospace

Using the Sun for Propulsion

Solar sails harness the radiation pressure exerted by light on a reflective material to provide thrust to spacecraft. With few moving parts and the propellant offboard, solar sails provide cost-effective operations and long operating lifetimes. The technology is proven, having been successfully demonstrated by Japan’s IKAROS mission’s fly-by of Venus in 2010.

Advancing Solar Sails for Deeper Space Exploration

Two new solar sail mission concepts will assess spacecraft communications and power requirements and explore the design of higher fidelity sail control systems to ensure precise navigation around the Sun and interstellar locations.

Two new solar sail mission concepts will assess spacecraft communications and power requirements and explore the design of higher fidelity sail control systems to ensure precise navigation around the Sun and interstellar locations. Credit: Aerospace

APPLE: Atomic Power and Energy Storage

The APPLE concept is a new type of spacecraft power system that will open previously inaccessible parts of the solar system to human exploration and make a range of rapid transit missions possible. (Aerospace illustration)

The APPLE power tile is made of a sandwich of batteries covering a hot isotope layer. The heat is converted to energy and stored in the batteries. Credit: Aerospace

Expanding Capabilities, Expanding Access

Until other forms of propulsion become practical and attainable, solar sail technology may provide us a means of bypassing the limitations of conventional spacecraft propulsion, and may ultimately broaden access to space, making space exploration far more accessible to private enterprise and countries with nascent space programs. Aerospace continues to contribute its technical expertise toward the evolution of solar sail technology, and the new era of space exploration it may yield.

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The Aerospace Corporation

We operate the only federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) committed exclusively to the space enterprise.