UltraSail is a next- generation ultra-large (km2 class) sail system. Analysis of the launch, deployment, stabilization, and control of these sails shows that high-payload-mass fractions for interplanetary and deep-space missions are possible. UltraSail combines propulsion and control systems developed for formation- flying microsatellites with a solar sail architecture to achieve controllable sail areas approaching 1 km2. Electrically conductive CP-1 polyimide film results in sail subsystem area densities as low as 5 g/m2. UltraSail produces thrust levels many times those of ion thrusters used for comparable deepspace missions.

The primary innovation involves the near-elimination of sail-supporting structures by attaching each blade tip to a formation-flying microsatellite, which deploys the sail and then articulates the sail to provide attitude control, including spin stabilization and precession of the spin axis. These microsatellite tips are controlled by microthrusters for sail-film deployment and mission operations.

UltraSail also avoids the problems inherent in folded sail film, namely stressing, yielding, or perforating, by storing the film in a roll for launch and deployment. A 5-km long by 2 micrometer thick film roll on a mandrel with a 1 m circumference (32 cm diameter) has a stored thickness of 5 cm. A 5 m-long mandrel can store a film area of 25,000 m2, and a four-blade system has an area of 0.1 km2.

This work was done by Rodney Burton and Victoria Coverstone of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for Marshall Space Flight Center. For more information, contact Sammy Nabors, MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to MFS-32524-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.