NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is developing solar sail technologies which may support exploration beyond the solar system. The solar sail will propel an interstellar probe on a 15 year journey over 36 billion km (22.3 billion miles) beyond the edge of the solar system, in the first step towards a flight to the nearest stars. A precursor interstellar probe demonstration mission could be launched by 2010, travelling at 92kms, covering in eight years a distance as far as a Voyager probe will journey in 41 years. The thin reflective solar sail would be propelled by the sun's energy, which acts like a wind. The sail would also be the largest object to be deployed in space, spanning about 400m (1,310ft) and would be constructed of ultralight material, such as carbonfibre.


Source: Flight International