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NASA Launches Solar Sail Mission Into Space In A First

(Screenshot/Public/Space.com)

Mariane Angela Entertainment And News Reporter
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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a sail mission into space Tuesday utilizing the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System.

NASA launched an innovative mission that could change the way spacecraft navigate the solar system, according to the agency’s press release. The mission will utilize the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, scheduled for launch aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.

This test will take place more than 600 miles above Earth, a distance over twice the altitude of the International Space Station. The mission’s objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of the solar sail technology, which uses sunlight for propulsion, the news release stated. The force exerted by sunlight on the sail is minuscule, comparable to the weight of a paperclip resting on your hand, yet it is hoped to be sufficient to move the spacecraft by overcoming atmospheric drag.

The CubeSat, about the size of a microwave oven, will undergo a rigorous initial phase of operation. After about two months of subsystems checkouts, it will deploy its reflective solar sail. The demonstration will focus on orbit manipulation—raising and lowering its path around Earth—using only sunlight pressure on the sail, according to NASA. (RELATED: NASA Makes Major Mars Announcement. Can You Help?)

The mission is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, which also developed the onboard camera diagnostic system. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia contributed to the deployable composite booms and solar sail system. The mission is funded and overseen by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate, which also developed the boom technology. Rocket Lab USA, Inc., based in Long Beach, California, is handling the launch services.

This efficient, fuel-free propulsion method holds great promise for future space exploration. Several missions, including Japan’s Ikaros and the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2, have already employed solar sail technology. The ACS3 mission aims to further enhance this technology, Space.com reported.

“The mission plans to test the deployment of new composite booms that will unfurl the solar sail to measure approximately 30 feet [9 meters] per side, or about the size of a small apartment in total,” Rocket Lab wrote on their website.