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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

Steering of Solar Sails Using Optical Lift Force

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

This study seeks to look beyond the use of radiation pressure for thrust, and to explore a means of solar navigation whereby a solar craft would be steered by use of radiation pressure. The idea is based on a recent discovery by the study team. They found that transparent refractive objects may settle into a position where they feel a force that is perpendicular to the incoming light direction. This transverse force is akin to the lift experience by an airplane wing and other airfoils. Thus they call it "optical lift." Objects in their experiments simultaneously thrust forward. The combination of lift and thrust allows for the optical steering of optical wings. In the coming year they will conduct experiments and computer modeling to advance this discovery for future space missions employing solar sails. The long-term goal is to devise a means to allow solar sails to navigate through space using only the power of sunlight. In the short term they will design and fabricate small-scale arrays of optical wings and test them in the laboratory to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept. They will also perform numerical modeling to determine optimal design parameters for optical wings.

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This is a historic project that was completed before the creation of TechPort on October 1, 2012. Available data has been included. This record may contain less data than currently active projects.

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