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    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      NASA Marshall Space Flight Center technologists Les Johnson and Leslie McNutt at Redwire Space on Jan. 30, 2024, following a successful solar sail deployment test. NASA cleared a key technology milestone at Redwire’s new facility in Longmont, Colorado, with the successful deployment of one of four identical solar sail quadrants. Redwire Space By Wayne Smith
      In his youth, NASA technologist Les Johnson was riveted by the 1974 novel “The Mote in God’s Eye,” by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, in which an alien spacecraft propelled by solar sails visits humanity. Today, Johnson and a NASA team are preparing to test a similar technology.
      NASA continues to unfurl plans for solar sail technology as a promising method of deep space transportation. The agency cleared a key technology milestone in January with the successful deployment of one of four identical solar sail quadrants. The deployment was showcased Jan. 30 at Redwire Corp.’s new facility in Longmont, Colorado. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, leads the solar sail team, comprised of prime contractor Redwire, which developed the deployment mechanisms and the nearly 100-foot-long booms, and subcontractor NeXolve, of Huntsville, which provided the sail membrane. In addition to leading the project, Marshall developed the algorithms needed to control and navigate with the sail when it flies in space.
      NASA and industry partners used two 100-foot lightweight composite booms to stretch out a 4,445-square-footsquare-foot (400-square-meter) prototype solar sail quadrant for the first time Jan. 30, 2024. While just one quarter of the sail was unfurled in the deployment at Redwire, the complete sail will measure 17,780 square feet when fully deployed, with the thickness less than a human hair at 2 and a half microns. The sail is made of a polymer material coated with aluminum. (Redwire Space) The sail is a propulsion system powered by sunlight reflecting from the sail, much like a sailboat reflects the wind. While just one quarter of the sail was unfurled in the deployment at Redwire, the complete sail will measure 17,780 square feet when fully deployed, with the thickness less than a human hair at 2 and a half microns. The sail is made of a polymer material coated with aluminum.
      NASA’s Science Mission Directorate recently funded the solar sail technology to reach a new technology readiness level, or TRL 6, which means it’s ready for proposals to be flown on science missions.
      “This was a major last step on the ground before it’s ready to be proposed for space missions,” Johnson, who has been involved with sail technology at Marshall for about 25 years, said. “What’s next is for scientists to propose the use of solar sails in their missions. We’ve met our goal and demonstrated that we’re ready to be flown.”
      A solar sail traveling through deep space provides many potential benefits to missions using the technology because it doesn’t require any fuel, allowing very high propulsive performance with very little mass. This in-space propulsion system is well suited for low-mass missions in novel orbits.
      “Once you get away from Earth’s gravity and into space, what is important is efficiency and enough thrust to travel from one position to another,” Johnson said.
      A solar sail achieves that by reflecting sunlight – the greater the size of the sail, the greater thrust it can provide.
      Les Johnson
      NASA technologist
      Some of the missions of interest using solar sail technology include studying space weather and its effects on the Earth, or for advanced studies of the north and south poles of the Sun. The latter has been limited because the propulsion required to  get a spacecraft into a polar orbit around the sun is very high and simply not feasible using most of the propulsion systems available today. Solar sail propulsion is also possible for enhancing future missions to Venus or Mercury, given their closeness to the Sun and the enhanced thrust a solar sail would achieve in the more intense sunlight there.
      Moreover, it’s the ultimate green propulsion system, Johnson said – as long as the Sun is shining, the sail will have propulsion. Where the sunlight is less, he envisions a future where lasers could be used to accelerate the solar sails to high speeds, pushing them outside the solar system and beyond, perhaps even to another star. “In the future, we might place big lasers in space that shine their beams on the sails as they depart the solar system, accelerating them to higher and higher speeds, until eventually they are going fast enough to reach another star in a reasonable amount of time.”
      To learn more about solar sails and other NASA advanced space technology, visit:
      Jonathan Deal
      Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
      Last Updated Feb 12, 2024 Related Terms
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    • By USH
      In September 1964, Captain McLeod and Sergeant Barnes were dispatched from Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio. They were sent to investigate a UFO sighting in Northern California. 

      Wright-Patterson AFB got lots of UFO reports. 99% of them could be explained. And a sizeable percentage of those sightings were hoaxers looking for attention. 
      The other 1% were classified as UFOs and sent on to Project Blue Book. What happened from there, McLeod didn't know. The fact that he was being sent to the other side of the country meant this sighting was important to the Air Force. 
      McLeod had a copy of the teletyped report from the UFO tracking office. It was stamped with an unusual "Priority" notification. It read: 
      "UFO landing with entities reported by missile technician in Tahoe NF, Sacramento. Orders: Investigate and contain via usual protocols ASAP." 
      McLeod's first step was to interview the witness. And, even after 17 years as an investigator, this was the strangest UFO story he'd ever heard. 
      Summary witness report: Witness Donald Shrum found himself disoriented and separated from his hunting companions, leading him to make the decision to spend the night safely perched in a tree away from potential predators. 
      While nestled in his chosen pine tree, positioned 12 feet above the ground, Shrum observed an unusual light. To his surprise, the source was something like a headlight on a massive cigar-shaped craft 
      Subsequently, a smaller vessel emerged from one of the mothership's huge rectangular ports. From this secondary craft emerged a group of beings Shrum could only describe as humanoid. 
      These entities wearing spacesuits and were accompanied by some sort of robots that appeared to be on a mission to study the local flora. 
      As Shrum remained hidden in the tree, the beings became aware of his presence, and a few among them seemed determined to abduct him for reasons unknown. Undeterred, Shrum fiercely resisted these intruders, utilizing everything at his disposal, ultimately succeeding in fending them off.
        View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      A cosmic alignment and a little bit of spacecraft gymnastics has provided a ground-breaking measurement that is helping solve the 65-year-old cosmic mystery of why the Sun’s atmosphere is so hot.
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    • By European Space Agency
      ESA’s Euclid spacecraft lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA, at 17:12 CEST on 1 July. The successful launch marks the beginning of an ambitious mission to uncover the nature of two mysterious components of our Universe: dark matter and dark energy, and to help us answer the fundamental question: what is the Universe made of?
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    • By European Space Agency
      The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has enabled another long-sought scientific breakthrough, this time for Solar System scientists studying the origins of the water that has made life on Earth possible. Using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) instrument, astronomers have confirmed gas – specifically water vapour – around a comet in the main asteroid belt for the first time, proving that water from the primordial Solar System can be preserved as ice in that region. However, the successful detection of water comes with a new puzzle: unlike other comets, Comet 238P/Read had no detectable carbon dioxide.
      View the full article
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