A document discusses a proposal to incorporate holographic optical elements into solar photon thrusters (SPTs). First suggested in 1990, SPTs would be systems of multiple reflective, emissive, and absorptive surfaces (solar sails) that would be attached to spacecraft orbiting the Earth to derive small propulsive forces from radiation pressures. An SPT according to the proposal would include, among other things, a main sail. One side of the sail would be highly emissive and would normally face away from the Earth. The other side would be reflective and would be covered by white-light holographic images that would alternately become reflective, transmissive, and absorptive with small changes in the viewing angle. When the spacecraft was at a favorable orbital position, the main sail would be oriented to reflect sunlight in a direction to maximize the solar thrust; when not in a favorable position, the main sail would be oriented to present a substantially absorptive/emissive aspect to minimize the solar drag. By turning the main sail slightly to alternate between the reflective and absorptive/emissive extremes, one could achieve nearly a doubling or halving of the radiational momentum transfer and, hence, of the solar thrust.

This work was done by Les Johnson of Marshall Space Flight Center and Greg Matloff of New York City Technical College, The City University of New York (CUNY). For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. MFS-31889

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2006 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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