A digitized copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s DNA will ride into space aboard the “Sunjammer,” a spacecraft using the solar sail technology featured in his 1960s story by that title.
The NASA-funded mission will show the usefulness of solar sails for propulsion by delivering solar storm detectors to a sail-stabilized position fixed about 1.5 closer to the Sun than the L1 point. The craft is expected to be sent into orbit around the Sun in 2014. The builder is L’Garde, Inc., in Tustin, California.
On board will be the Sunjammer Cosmic Archive (SCA), a time capsule with a “BioFile” containing digital files of human DNA including Clarke’s, and other “MindFiles” with images, music, and voice recordings provided by people worldwide, to be left for future generations or perhaps other civilizations.
Here is the manufacturer’s YouTube animation of a 10,000 square meter solar sail being deployed.
The company’s website suggests many potential uses for solar sail craft:
- Debris collection and removal from orbit. Debris can be captured and removed from orbit over a period of years using the small solar-sail thrust.
- De-orbit of spent satellites. Solar sails can be integrated into satellite payloads so that the satellite can be de-orbited at the end of its mission.
- Creating pseudo-Lagrange points by cancelling some solar gravitational pull with the sails. As an example, the GeoStorm project considers locating solar storm warning satellites three times further from the Earth increasing warning time from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
- Providing synchronous satellites at non-equatorial latitudes, such as the “pole-sitter” project. This allows the northern and southern latitudes to gain the advantages of synchronous satellites.
- Providing deep space propulsion. Payloads free of the Earth’s pull can be accelerated to the other planets, or out of the solar system, such as those proposed for Project Encounter.
[Via Gregory Benford.]