Wolfgang Seboldt, Bernd Dachwald
Solar Sails for Near-Term Advanced Scientific Deep Space Missions
In: L.T. DeLuca (Ed.): Rocket Propulsion: Present and Future (Edited Proceedings of the 8th International Workshop on Combustion and Propulsion
, 2002, Pozzuoli, Italy), Politechnico di Milano, Milano, 2003, Paper 49


Solar sails are propelled in space by reflecting solar photons off large mirroring surfaces, thereby transforming the momentum of the photons into a propulsive force. This innovative concept for low-thrust space propulsion works without any propellant and thus provides a wide range of opportunities for high-energy low-cost missions. Offering an efficient way of propulsion, solar sailcraft could close a gap in transportation options for highly demanding exploration missions within our solar system and even beyond. On December 17th, 1999, a significant step was made towards the realization of this technology: a light-weight solar sail structure with an area of 20 m x 20 m was successfully deployed on ground in a large facility at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) at Cologne. The deployment from a package of 60 cm x 60 cm x 65 cm with a total mass of less than 35 kg was achieved using four extremely light-weight carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) booms with a specific mass of 100 g/m. The paper briefly reviews the basic principles of solar sails as well as the technical concept and its realization in the ground demonstration experiment, performed in close cooperation between DLR and ESA. Next possible steps are outlined. They could comprise the in-orbit demonstration of the sail deployment on the upper stage of a low-cost rocket and the verification of the propulsion concept by an autonomous and free flying solar sail in the frame of a scientific mission. It is expected that the present design could be extended to sail sizes of about (40 m)2 up to even (70 m)2 without significant mass penalty. With these areas, the maximum achievable thrust at 1 AU would range between 10 and 40 mN comparable to some electric thrusters. Such prototype sails with a mass between 50 and 150 kg plus a micro-spacecraft of 50 to 250 kg would have a maximum acceleration in the order of 0.1 mm/s2 at 1 AU, corresponding to a maximum ΔV-capability of about 3 km/s per year. Two near/medium-term mission examples to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) will be discussed: a rendezvous mission and a sample return mission.