NASA successfully tests world’s largest solar sail

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

solar sails
Looks like a gigantic kite, doesn’t it?

Years from now, if you’re peering through a telescope and see something that looks like a giant kite, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably NASA’s Sunjammer Project, which is launching the world’s largest solar sail in 2015! Based on their successful test a couple weeks ago, the agency is well on its way to getting the enormous sail into space!

Just how big is the world’s most humongous solar sail? Well, the solar sheet covers around 13,000 square feet when it’s fully expanded, or about one third of an entire football field!

Just because it’s big doesn’t mean it’s heavy though. The solar sail is five millionths of a meter thick, so when it’s folded, it weighs a measly 70 pounds! That’ll be light enough for just about any rocket to haul into space, but since it’ll be riding on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 – which has 9 powerful engines – it’ll be light as a feather.

Once the sail gets into space, it should have no trouble riding on solar winds, which are streams of particles released from the sun. See, when NASA tested the material here on Earth, with its heavy gravity and atmosphere, the sail worked like a charm. “If this test succeeded under these stressing conditions, we certainly anticipate it will work exceedingly well in space,” said Nathan Barnes, President of L’Garde Inc., the company working closest with NASA on the project.

The solar sail will demonstrate how it’s possible to monitor solar activity with simple and inexpensive materials. If the mission goes well, NASA might even look into creating an entire fleet to serve as an early warning system for space weather in the future!


Images courtesy of NASA.