An Interstellar Sail before 2020?

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G. L. Matloff et al. (2015), JBIS, 68, pp.26-29

Refcode: 2015.68.26
Keywords: solar sail, extrasolar probes, cubesats

In 2017, NASA plans to launch the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, a solar-photon-sail propelled probe to rendezvous with one or more near-Earth asteroids. According to a publication describing early design parameters, the spacecraft mass is 12 kg and the square sail has an area of 83 square meters. This craft, like many other NASA science missions, will likely remain functional after the completion of its primary mission. This paper investigates options for application of this spacecraft during its extended mission as an Interstellar Trailblazer. As well as kinematics, thermal aspects and the communications challenges are discussed. Although interstellar velocities for this craft will not be high and engineering the pre-perihelion trajectory will be challenging, an extended demonstration mission of this type would certainly spur interest in the development of true interstellar sails. As of December 2014, the design of this spacecraft continues to evolve. The performance estimates presented here may be overly conservative.

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