A researcher from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has developed some advanced photonic materials that could be used as spacecraft sails, enabling a craft to be propelled by the sun.
Devised by Grover Swartzlander, a professor in RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, created the "metamaterials" (a new class of man-made structures with unconventional properties) will replace reflective metallic sails with diffractive metafilm sails.
It is claimed that these new materials could be used to steer reflected or transmitted photons for near-Earth, interplanetary and interstellar space travel.
"Diffractive films may also be designed to replace heavy and failure-prone mechanical systems with lighter electro-optic controls having no moving parts," he said.
It's hoped the development could represent the next technological leap forward for solar sails. NASA is funding Swartzlander's study via its Innovative Advanced Concepts programme.
The programme is a nine-month, $125,000 award that encourages the development of technology with the potential to revolutionise future space exploration and to create a roadmap for advancing metamaterial sails on low Earth-orbiting satellites, called CubeSats.
"CubeSats are becoming of great national importance for science, security and commercial purposes," said Swartzlander.
"The potential to raise, de-orbit or station-keep hundreds of CubeSats from low-Earth orbit would be a recognised game changer that would build enthusiasm and advocacy among the growing small-satellite community of students, entrepreneurs and aerospace scientists and engineers."
The first CubeSat mission using attached sails as part of the programme will be called NEA Scout. It is one of 13 satellites that will conduct science and technology investigations as part of NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).
EM-1 is slated to launch this year on the new Space Launch System rocket. When deployed, NEA Scout's aluminum coated polyimide sail will reflect sunlight to propel the reconnaissance robotic spacecraft on its two-year cruise.
Warming was most pronounced in Siberia region
The tank will be subjected to high stresses and loads via dozens of hydraulic cylinders during testing
'Sunlit wet sidewalk' provides evidence of methane rainfall on the north pole of Saturn's moon Titan
Methane rainfall indicates the start of the summer season in Titan's northern hemisphere
Scientists believe there could be other hydrides or superhydrides with super conducting properties