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Solar sail science mission applications and advancement : solar sailing: concepts, technology, missions

Macdonald, Malcolm and McInnes, Colin (2011) Solar sail science mission applications and advancement : solar sailing: concepts, technology, missions. Advances in Space Research, 48 (11). pp. 1702-1716. ISSN 0273-1177

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Abstract

Solar sailing has long been envisaged as an enabling or disruptive technology. The promise of open-ended missions allows consideration of radically new trajectories and the delivery of spacecraft to previously unreachable or unsustainable observation outposts. A mission catalogue is presented of an extensive range of potential solar sail applications, allowing identification of the key features of missions which are enabled, or significantly enhance, through solar sail propulsion. Through these considerations a solar sail application-pull technology development roadmap is established, using each mission as a technology stepping-stone to the next. Having identified and developed a solar sail application-pull technology development roadmap, this is incorporated into a new vision for solar sailing. The development of new technologies, especially for space applications, is high-risk. The advancement difficulty of low technology readiness level research is typically underestimated due to a lack of recognition of the advancement degree of difficulty scale. Recognising the currently low technology readiness level of traditional solar sailing concepts, along with their high advancement degree of difficulty and a lack of near-term applications a new vision for solar sailing is presented which increases the technology readiness level and reduces the advancement degree of difficulty of solar sailing. Just as the basic principles of solar sailing are not new, they have also been long proven and utilised in spacecraft as a low-risk, high-return limited-capability propulsion system. It is therefore proposed that this significant heritage be used to enable rapid, near-term solar sail future advancement through coupling currently mature solar sail, and other, technologies with current solar sail technology developments. As such the near-term technology readiness level of traditional solar sailing is increased, while simultaneously reducing the advancement degree of difficulty along the solar sail application-pull technology development roadmap.