by Patrick L. Barry
|SAILMAST is the thin triangular truss in front of the picture. It is attached to a section of a silver foil solar sail section shown here in a laboratory test. The mast in the picture is 2m (6 ft) long. The Space Technology 8 mission will test the SAILMAST, which is 20 times longer. |
Click image for larger view.
SAILMAST will fly aboard NASA's Space Technology 8 (ST8) mission, scheduled to launch in February 2009. The mission is part of NASA’s New Millennium Program, which flight tests cutting-edge technologies so that they can be used reliably for future space exploration. While actually flying to nearby stars is probably decades away, solar sails may come in handy close to home. Engineers are eyeing this technology for “solar sentinels,” spacecraft that orbit the Sun to provide early warning of solar flares.
Once in space, ST8 will slowly deploy SAILMAST by uncoiling it. The truss consists of three very thin, 40-meter-long rods connected by short cross-members. The engineers used high-strength graphite for these structural members so that they could make them very thin and light.
The key question is how straight SAILMAST will be after it deploys in space. The smaller the curve of the mast the more load it can support. “That's really why we need to fly it in space, to see how straight it is when it's floating weightlessly,” McEachen says.
It’s an important step toward building a sail for the space-mariners of the future.
Find out more about SAILMAST at nmp.nasa.gov/st8. Kids can visit spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/st8/sailmast to see how SAILMAST is like a Slinky® toy in space.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.