International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ACS3 Project, Solar Sailing

Mains level: NA

Why in the news?

NASA has launched its Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) spacecraft that uses sunlight for propulsion from New Zealand into space.

About Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) Project

  • The spacecraft is slated to orbit 1,000 kilometers above Earth, deploying an 80-square-meter solar sail approximately 25 minutes after liftoff.
  • It harnesses sunlight as a renewable propulsion source, marking a novel advancement in space exploration.
  • It uses a compact CubeSat, similar in size to an oven, which facilitates propulsion by capturing solar particle energy.
  • Operational Phases:
  • The initial flight phase spans two months and involves subsystems checkout and solar sail deployment.
  • A series of pointing maneuvers will showcase orbit raising and lowering, validating the effectiveness of sunlight pressure on the sail.

The Technology Behind: Solar Sailing

  • Solar sails typically consist of lightweight, reflective materials such as Mylar or aluminized Kapton, which are deployed in space to capture sunlight.
  • The sail is often configured as a large, thin membrane with a large surface area to maximize the amount of sunlight it can intercept.
  • When sunlight reflects off a shiny solar sail, some of its momentum is transferred, giving the sail a small push.

Solar sailing offers several advantages over traditional propulsion methods, including:

  1. Efficiency: Solar sailing does not require onboard fuel, making it a highly efficient and sustainable propulsion method for long-duration missions.
  2. Continuous thrust: Unlike chemical rockets, which provide brief bursts of acceleration, solar sails can provide continuous thrust as long as they are exposed to sunlight.
  3. Maneuverability: Solar sails can change their trajectory by adjusting the orientation of the sail relative to the direction of incoming sunlight. This allows for precise navigation and maneuvering in space.
  4. Interstellar travel: Solar sailing has the potential to enable interstellar missions by gradually accelerating spacecraft to very high velocities over time, allowing them to explore distant star systems.



[2016] What is ‘Greased Lightning-10 (GL-10)’, recently in the news?

(a) Electric plane tested by NASA

(b) Solar-powered two-seater aircraft designed by Japan

(c) Space observatory launched by China

(d) Reusable rocket designed by ISRO

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