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 NASA tests new solar sail structure  infographic
Graphic shows how the ACS3 booms operate.


Successful launch for NASA’s new solar sail experiment

By Ninian Carter

April 24, 2024 - The primary goal of NASA’s new Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) is to test a new, rollable carbon fibre boom that could revolutionise space exploration.

NASA has launched a solar sail space mission that will test the deployment of new lightweight, unfurling composite booms.

The new design allows the four seven-metre-long carbon fibre booms to be rolled up like tape. When they are unspooled, they spring back into their original tube-like form to provide a rigid structure for the polyethylene sail quadrants to hang from.

Solar sails propel payloads by harnessing the pressure of sunlight photons, in a similar way to how sailboats are powered by wind pushing against sails.

In a previous LightSail 2 experimental launch, the metallic booms buckled in space. The new booms are insensitive to thermal distortions and a quarter the weight of comparable metallic booms – just 900 grammes per boom.

If the experiment is successful, NASA has plans to expand the boom design into other areas, such as beams and trusses that could build structures on the moon.

The Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) spacecraft successfully launched aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from New Zealand, on April 24, 2024.

PUBLISHED: 23/04/2024; STORY: Graphic News