A report proposes that solar sails for spacecraft be made from nets of carbon fibers. The reason for choosing carbon nets over thin polymeric films is that nets offer greater capability for carrying tensile loads. The sails could be made from carbon-fiber nets of various thicknesses: nets used for high emissivity could be made from nanotube carbon fibers; nets for holding aluminum reflectors could be made from micron-thickness fibers; nets to carry tensile loads in sails could be made from fibers with thicknesses between 10 and 100 µm; and nets to carry large bulk loads and loads in high-stress areas could be made from fibers with thicknesses from 100 to 1,000 µm.
This work was done by Charles Garner of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To obtain a copy of the report, "Carbon Net Solar Sail," access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Materials category.