Wednesday, February 6, 2013

NASA is gonna fly a kite!

NASA has plans to sail a 20 meter kite in 2014. Actually it’s a solar sail & boom system developed for NASA by a company in California. The project is known as “Sunjammer” from Sir Arthur Clarke’s short story of the same name.

There is very little power in solar sails so NASA is packing light. So then what is NASA thinking? What mission could this possibly be right for? Well, glad you asked. In maintaining space weather solutions to tell us of incoming solar storms or perhaps collecting space garbage; NASA is seeing the uses for missions where one doesn't require speed and has nowhere to be anytime soon. Perhaps a deep space telescope that just struts through space or a local mission tracking some activity that is slow to react. There is a place for solar sails. I personally don’t believe they are usable out in deep space unless a route can be planned based of off the location of other stars locations. But of corse if you get some motion going, you pretty much keep going until something alters your path.

NASA is planning this mission to find out how she handles the tacking and return trips. A Solar Sail is just that, a sail and is maneuvered in much the same way. Tacking, luffing, and running before the wind; might as well be on the Chesapeake sailing an Alberg 30. When NASA unfurls this gigantic sail (pictured below) from its collapsed size of about a dishwasher, then it will execute the preselected navigation sequence as NASA gets a handle on the capabilities of their new technology.

With the major benefit that it requires no engine, no fuel, no live human operator, there are certainly advantages to a solar sail. As the commercialization of space comes closer to a reality, perhaps it is time we took care of the little things, how perhaps we might send supplies to the moon or elsewhere. Speed won’t be needed everywhere in space.

Sailing the universe smoothly and calmly; like the Dutch children sailing & fishing in the stars:

"All night long their nets they threw To the stars in the twinkling foam — Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe, Bringing the fishermen home; 'Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed As if it could not be, And some folks thought 'twas a dream they'd dreamed Of sailing that beautiful sea — But I shall name you the fishermen three: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."
(Eugene Feld – Dutch Lullaby)

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