The US has followed Japan with regards to demonstrating solar sail experiment.
At about 7 a.m. (IST) on Saturday a 78-foot tall Minotour-4 rocket lifted from the Kodiak launch zone in Alaska carrying seven satellites with 16 experiments.
One of the experiments related to the demonstration of an innovative solar sail experiment which will evaluate new propulsion technologies. The cost of this project? Less than a million dollar.
Designated as the NanoSail-D mission, the project envisages a 100 square foot polymer sail being unfurled from a satellite which will be the size of a loaf of bread. The 8.5 pound sail will harness light pressure from the sun to change its orbt, which will reduce the craft's speed, lowering its orbit and burning up in the earth's atmosphere, according to SpaceFlight Now.
According to the website, solar sails do not generate much thrust. But, they propel lightweight spacecraft long distances into the solar system for years and months. A Japanese solar sail mission, launched on May 21, 2010, is on its way to Venus.
The NanoSail-D is packed inside a larger Nasa spacecraft called Fastsat--Fast Affodable,Science and Technology. Either on November 27 or a few days later NanoSail-D will be spring ejected from Fastsat. Shaped like a rectangular prism, NanoSail-D will orbit the earth at an altitude of about 400 miles.
Depending upon the atmospheric conditions, NanoSail-D will remain in orbit between 70 and 120 days.
Scientists connected with this project have been quoted as saying that the advantage of such a mission is that has what is known as an ``enabling capability for quick response science.'' Dean Alhorn, principal investigator of NanoSail-D says ``it will give us an understanding how solar cells operate.''