To better the reach of spacecrafts in deep space, NASA has been long playing with the idea of using solar sails that can use solar radiation as an engine. The aerospace firm has now announced that it will be launching the world’s largest solar sail in 2014 into space. The mission, named Sunjammer, will see the use of a 13,000sqf solar sail, use radiation pressure from the sun for propulsion.
In principle, solar sails are similar to fabric sails used in boats, but instead of wind as the pushing force, solar sails make use of radiation pressure from the sun. As you can well imagine, the pressure isn’t as significant as wind here on earth, but considering that space is a vacuum and there is no resistance on the surface of the solar sail once it’s in space, even small, but continuous acceleration, can be used to achieve high speeds.
While propelling an entire spacecraft with solar sails, requires a staggeringly large solar sail, at the moment NASA is launching the world’s largest sail that is just five microns thick and weighs just 70 pounds. The sail will be launched as a compact box about the size of a dishwasher and once in space it has to unfurl itself. According to reports, the payload will be cremated remains of individuals, celestial flight capsules and modules, along with the ashes of “Star-Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry.