Sci-Fi in Real Life: Solar Sails Being Developed By NASA

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Bajoran LightshipNASA may have put an end to the shuttle program, but they continue to pursue cutting edge technology.  The same people who took us to the moon and made memory foam a reality are now attempting to perfect and implement solar sails that could be used as an alternative energy source for deep space travel.  Solar sails function much like regular sails on boats except that, instead of harnessing the power of wind, they harness sunlight.  As Ray Sanders over at Universe Today explains it, photons from the sun are gathered by the sail and stored until there is enough power to provide thrust to a small spacecraft.

NASA has been experimenting with solar sail technology for a little while now.  NanoSail-D, for example, has been slowly descending from the upper atmosphere via a solar sail and transmitting back data for months.  The latest announced demonstration, however, would involve a solar sail 7 times larger than any flown in space to date.  It will also test attitude control and execute a navigation sequence at mission-capable level, bringing us one step closer to implementation of the technology in actual space flight.

Successful solar sail technology would be a great boon to space travel.  It would allow spacecraft to travel great distances on less fuel, potentially lowering the cost of missions if the sails are reliable and affordable enough.  NASA says solar sails could be employed in a number of other areas, as well.  Small solar sail thrusts could remove orbital debris and solar sails integrated into satellites could allow them to de-orbit at the end of their missions.  Solar sails could also provide enough low thrust to stabilize space stations situated in otherwise unstable locations.


  1. Michael Watson via Facebook says:

    Awesome i wonder if they got this idea from Count Dooku 😉

  2. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:


  3. Carl Lalonde How can you be a fan of sci-fi and think this is a waste of money? Exploration spurs on innovation and beyond that, these would have instant practical application for things like better satellites.

  4. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    Hello Giant Robot . um do we need any more satellites . ? I am a fan of sci fi , mostly films , star formations and comets and things . But when the economy is in suck a state isnt it a bit pointless throwing billions of dollars in to this when the economy is in such a mess 🙂 i think money would be best spent sorting out whats on this planet rather than giving it to those with their heads in the clouds 🙂

  5. Plus space is full of untaped resources. Our future is amongst the stars.look up and see the possibilities or look down and watch our further decline into nothingness

  6. Mark-Powerfool Imray via Facebook says:

    They did this in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. So who stole it from who? but i guess it doesn’t matter, lets just hope it works.

  7. Carl Lalonde Thinking like that is exactly WHY the economy is the toilet. Innovation and research is how you fix the economy. And yes we always need more and better satellites… again making those creates jobs, creates new technology.

  8. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    Sigh. Great, now here comes the Space Pirates.

  9. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    Id just like to point out that i love having a discussion , and in no way mean to cause any arguments 🙂

  10. Mark-Powerfool Imray The photo I used for the story is the Bajoran Lightsailer from DS9, however solar sails have been used in science fiction stories for thirty or forty years.

  11. Menachem Rephun via Facebook says:

    I feel threatened by technological progress and I would like to express that through this internet service i am using called facebook

  12. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    It’s only a good idea financially if it pays-off. IF. BUT I want it to be profitable, I would like space travel to be the norm.

  13. Dwane Turner Have you ever heard the old axiom “you have to spend money to make money”? It’s true.

  14. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    yep granted create new jobs , how can we bring science fiction in to reality .no breathable air , no sustainable vegetation . Iunderstand to explore is paramount to find a hospitable planet with an atmosphere like ours . maybe to recolonise .

  15. Menachem Rephun via Facebook says:

    Maybe a high powered satellite could help us contact an all knowing alien who we could bring to earth to solve all our problems, and then when he starts trying to teach us how to better our lives through love and compassion we burn him at the stake

  16. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    Yes, but being Spockish- it is still a Gamble. Investing in any industry (new or old) is a Gamble. We (human of various minds) have to decide what is the best use of our collective resources. Not disagreeing with you and like I said, “I would like space travel to be the norm.”

  17. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:


  18. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    if i was an Alien id sail right past Earth 🙂

  19. Dwane Turner Investing in space travel is far less of a gamble than investing in most other industries, since space travel has already proven itself as a way to develop all kinds of new lucrative technologies. So even if the space travel itself isn’t profitable the things you’ll develop as a result of it are. It’s a proven formula for creating jobs and advancing technology at this point, it seems crazy that we’re still debating it, don’t you think?

  20. Menachem Rephun via Facebook says:

    Before searching for other planets I think we should focus on improving this one

  21. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    nothing wrong with a little light hearted discussion 🙂 Dwane Turner , you hit the nail on the head . Humans .?

  22. Menachem Rephun Searching for other planets HELPS us improve this one.

  23. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    Menachem Rephun. yay i so agree with you , as much as space exploration has helped technology we seem to still be living in the dark ages 🙁

  24. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    Giant Freakin Robot, i am folowing the feed my friend 🙂

  25. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    @GFR I am not saying either/or. All I am saying is just like every paycheck, we as individuals have to decide what we will spend our cash on- so does the world. You are going to have a hard time convincing everyone that Space travel is the best use of our money, even if it is. I am not calling you wrong, your opinion may be the one that brings world peace but just like the Enterprise theme song begins…

  26. Menachem Rephun via Facebook says:

    To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, before exploring outer space we have to explore the space inside

  27. Dwane Turner I have not voiced any opinions. That’s what you’re missing. Just facts.

  28. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    Carl Lalonde “*humans” was a correction of the previous statement.

  29. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    like the sea 🙂

  30. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    oh ok but im still more likely to hold my head in disbelief and woe at the human race 🙂

  31. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    I did not say you were speaking “untruths” you are speaking 100% truth. You’re just not noting the risk.

  32. The only risk is that humanity has become too short-sighted to survive.

  33. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    YEP , Like theres no tomorow :0

  34. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    @GFR you might be right there, but that is kind of my point. Great ideas get killed ALL of the time because people won’t take the risk. One reason why we pollute and fight wars is because we can’t think of the big picture and because we can’t take risks. And it’s the reason why Great Sci-Fi shows get cancelled.

  35. Carl Lalonde via Facebook says:

    nothing wrong with taking ricks but when ourplanet is in such a mess . well we are not going to put the world to rites . so ill leave you good people to beef it out and go bck to watching Blade Runner or Dune or Mork and Mindy . Go forth and prosper my friends 🙂

  36. Dwane Turner via Facebook says:

    Nannu, Nannu.

  37. Its not just thinking outside the box but not putting it in a box to begin with.

  38. Rather waste billion`s of dollar`s on something that could be the future of space exploration than wasting the billion`s of dollars bailing out Bank`s and such.Go Nasa!!

  39. Michael Whipple via Facebook says:

    Sounds like Bruce Sterling’s “Schismatrix.”

  40. Al Pa says:

    huh…. how is the energy used to propel the ship…. do they have a propeler for space :/