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China Tested its First Solar Sail Demonstrator in Orbit

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posted on Jan, 2 2020 @ 07:16 PM
China's aerospace sector has been developing at an incredible clip. They have been building rockets capable of reaching the money, stealth fighters, a global position system able to rival the American GPS, and hypersonic technologies. China even became the first nation to return to the moon's surface not once, but twice, including one on the lunar farside. A feat neither of the Cold War super powers accomplished. China isn't resting on its laurels either.

China's Shenyang Institute of Technology flew a cubesat[1] with a demonstrator for a solar sail[2] onboard. The solar sail was the first, subscale demonstration of that technology by the Chinese. The Chinese have been working on flexible structure deployment systems since 2011 and the SIASAIL-1 was the first demo[3] of that technology along with the basic solar sail tech. Solar sails have the potential to be an expensive delivery system for the solar system.

Solar sails operate[4] by being very low mass relative to its surface area and reflecting the light from the sun. Solar sails are huge, but low mass mirrors in essence. Light has momentum and when reflected, the photon bounces off and pushes the sail. The acceleration is minuscule: at best around 1 mm/s^2. However, so long as the sun is shining on the sail, the solar sail can constantly accelerate. This means over time, a solar sail can actually accelerate to speeds faster than a chemical rocket.

The real beauty of a solar sail, though, is there is no fuel and it can be used over and over without needing to replenish the spacecraft. So long as it has sufficient reflective surface, it can still accelerate and deliver cargo. Over time, the sail will be torn and degrade, but the spacecraft could act as a reusable delivery system throughout the solar system, at least the inner solar system, for decades.

One of the beautiful alternate potential uses of solar sails would be to hover over the poles of the earth. At sufficient height and with sufficient efficiency, a solar sail could just hover above one of the poles of the Earth[5], using the acceleration imparted by reflecting sunlight to cancel out the effects of gravity from the Earth. This would keep a satellite directly above that point and allow for a constant surveillance of the poles.

To be sure, the US has known about solar sails for decades. The NASA mission to Haley's Comet that was considered and then cancelled had looked at using a solar sail (an ion drive was selected before cancellation though as the solar sail was considered too new and risky at the time). The Planetary Society[6] with its COSMOS-1, Light Sail-1 and Light Sail-2 have been largely developing the technology. Until now.

China has taken a keen interest and started spending money on it. It will be interesting to see if China follows through. If so, it could allow for a reusable interplanetary transportation system suitable for cargo and would be a unique capability. China has a long way to go before the technology is useful, but the longest journeys are begun by the first steps.


posted on Jan, 2 2020 @ 07:46 PM
But they can't make a ratchet that doesn't strip gears the first time you put a little snuff on it?

posted on Jan, 2 2020 @ 08:34 PM

originally posted by: Homefree
But they can't make a ratchet that doesn't strip gears the first time you put a little snuff on it?

they could- and they could out compete snap on or anyone else. they'd need to start with quality steel, then use quality processes.
much like management in any job in the US these days, they're focused on ROI, but there are plenty of US brands willing to sell a dozen brands of the same crap as their own.

Chinese junk is based to highest profit- they won't make a good tool because the market will buy ten times as many of the same tool at half the price at a tenth of the cost.

posted on Jan, 3 2020 @ 12:12 AM
That's just a feature of the crap they sell you. They don't cheap out on their own space projects.

a reply to: Homefree

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