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Solar sailing - Mission opportunities and innovative technology demonstration

McInnes, C.R. and Eiden, M. and Groepper, P. and Peacock, T. (2001) Solar sailing - Mission opportunities and innovative technology demonstration. ESA European Space Agency Bulletin, 108. pp. 58-65. ISSN 0376-4265

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Abstract

Solar sailing is a unique and elegant form of propulsion that transcends reliance on reaction mass. Rather than carrying propellant, solar sails acquire momentum from photons, the quantum packets of energy from which sunlight is composed. In addition, since solar sails are not limited by reaction mass, they can provide continual acceleration, limited only by the lifetime of the sail film in the space environment. Therefore, solar sails can expand the envelope of possible missions, enabling new high-energy mission concepts that are essentially impossible with conventional reaction propulsion, and enhancing current mission concepts by lowering launch mass and reducing trip times.