|The Solar Blade solar sail is a spacecraft that utilizes reflected solar pressure as its only means of propulsion and attitude control. The continuous force generated by photons striking the windmill-like sail is sufficient to boost the craft out of Earths gravity well and, eventually, out of the solar system.
Solar sailing is a revolutionary idea whose time has come. As the limits of chemical propulsion are reached, solar sailing is increasingly becoming an option for extending mankinds reach into space.
The promise of solar sailing in space is in the continuous propulsion derived from natural solar pressure. Although the pressure from the Sun is less than the pressure felt from a piece of paper on an open hand, its persistent push imparts an accumulated thrust greater than rocket propulsion can provide.
Solar sailing makes possible exotic missions once thought impractical due to their large propellant requirements. Such missions include dwelling at LaGrange points where the gravity from two celestial bodies cancel each other, hovering over an Earth pole for persistent scientific monitoring, cruising to asteroids, and flying to nearby stars.
Solar sail concepts have existed for decades, but their implementation has been elusive. To date, no true solar sail craft has flown in space. The primary dilemma is the need for tremendous sail surface area relative to spacecraft mass. Early solar sail spacecraft designs had payloads weighing thousands of kilograms and sails spanning kilometers. The costs associated with manufacturing very large sails, the risks of deployment, and the complexity of controlling large, flexible structures in space have been prohibitive.
The Solar Blade team is overcoming the traditional obstacles to solar sail flight by employing state-of-the-art technology to dramatically reduce spacecraft payload mass, which shrinks the size of the sail and overall spacecraft mass. This reduction of size and weight, coupled with the relatively straightforward deployment scheme of unrolling the sail material, makes the Solar Blade heliogyro design eminently more practical and flyable than previous solar sail spacecraft.