NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Scout (NEAS) mission incorporates the current state of the art in solar sail packaging, fabrication, and testing. In early 2018, NeXolve will complete design, fabrication, ground deployment testing, packaging, and delivery of the 100m2 class NEAS sail to NASA MSFC.
The current approach used for NEAS packaging has practical limits with regard to scalability to larger sails and the ability to support much needed reliable and repeatable ground deployment testing at the NEAS scale. The efficiency and reliability of packaging processes also pose technical and schedule risk to the sail program. The current NEAS sail packaging processes are labor intensive, time consuming, have implicit risk to the sail due to extensive handling, and are not considered scalable beyond the NEAS class sail.
The proposed innovative packaging processes and mechanisms will address the limits encountered by the current NEAS processes and mechanisms. The proposed innovations improve packaging quality and efficiency by:
The proposed technology development includes development of mechanical folding aids and mechanisms that will provide reliable and repeatable folding a storage of very thin ethereal sail materials that are very difficult to package using state of the art manual labor intensive process. The project also addresses issues of scalability by developing methods for fabricating sales in-situ with the packaging process. Thus enabling fabrication and packaging of Sails too large to be laid out flat and folded using current state of the art methods.
The proposed technology will improve reliability and testability of sails in current CubeSat class (NEA Scout, Nanosail). However, the largest payoff of this technology will be realized by developing a feasible method for packaging and deploying much larger solar sails (1000+ Sq. Meters) for future high value missions such as Geo-Storm, pole sitters, inter-stellar missions and other proposed sail applications.
There are many applications where larger continuous films would improve current practices. For example seamless protective covers for aircraft, large structures and agriculture. The technology developed in this activity is generic and can be applied to fabrication of many different types of thin flexible materials such as polymers, fabrics, and foils.