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The Physics of Solar SailsThe concept of using photon pressure for propulsion has been considered since Tsiolkovsky in 1921. In fact, Tsiolkovsky and Tsander wrote of 'using tremendous mirrors of very thin sheets' and 'using the pressure of sunlight to attain cosmic velocities' in 1924. The term 'solar sailing' was coined in the late 1950s and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke in the short story Sunjammer (The Wind From the Sun) in May 1964. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used sailing techniques to extend the operational life of the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974-1975. A problem in the control system was causing Mariner 10 to go off course. By controlling the attitude of Mariner 10 and the angle of the solar power panels relative to the Sun, ground controllers were able to correct the problem without using precious fuel. Once thought to be difficult or impossible, solar sailing has come out of science fiction and into the realm of possibility. Any spacecraft using this method would need to deploy a thin sail that could be as large as many kilometers in extent. Candidate sail materials should be: 1) strong, 2) ultra-lightweight (density of a few g/sq m), 3) able to be folded or crushed until deployed, 4) subject to minimal sagging or stretching, and 5) resistant to ionizing radiation, such as galactic and solar particles (electrons and protons), x-rays, ultraviolet light, and magnetically trapped charged particles. Solar sails must be resistant to each of these types of radiation.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Marshall Space Flight Center
Document Type
Hollerman, William Andrew
(Louisiana Univ. Lafayette, LA, United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
April 1, 2003
Publication Information
Publication: The 2002 NASA Faculty Fellowship Program Research Reports
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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