The Sunjammer Mission team — including NASA, lead contractor L’Garde, Space Services Holdings (SSHI), and Micro Aerospace Solutions — is preparing to launch Sunjammer, the largest solar sail ever deployed, named in honor of legendary science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke. In a 1963 novella, Clarke christened a solar sailing ship “Sunjammer,” powered only by the pressure created by photons from the Sun.
Scheduled for launch in November 2014 aboard a Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket, Sunjammer will take off from Cape Canaveral, FL. The sail will be manifested as a secondary payload on the same flight that will launch the Deep Space Climate ObserVeR (DSCOVR) weather satellite to the Sun-Earth L1 point.
After launch and delivery to “L1,” the dishwasher-sized spacecraft holding Sunjammer will begin its deployment, extending to an area of nearly 13,000 square feet. Sunjammer will demonstrate a new solar-sailing technology — “propellant-less propulsion” — that will transform space exploration by enabling maneuverability at significantly reduced weight and cost.
Sunjammer is also an early example of Technology Demonstration Missions, which focus on promising new space technologies from the lab to flight.
“Our Technology Demonstration Missions are designed to demonstrate through spaceflight that new technologies are ready to be infused into government and commercial missions,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re excited about seeing Sunjammer unfurl and successfully sail next year, providing the propellant for its own mission, as well as whole new space mission concepts of the future.”
NASA selected the Sunjammer team to employ fast-track design, manufacturing, and operations techniques that permit and encourage the inclusion of commercial best practices while maintaining NASA oversight and expertise.
SSHI is contributing funding to fly a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight payload aboard Sunjammer. The company will also lead a mission Web site (sunjammermission.com) and an extensive, privately funded education and public outreach effort coordinated with NASA. The initiative will educate the public and raise global awareness about the mission.
Two UK universities, Imperial College and King’s College, have also donated two space weather sensors to measure the solar wind. Discussions are underway with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for an agreement in which NOAA would receive and evaluate mission data to assess the potential for solar sail missions and space weather monitoring.