Sun Watching, Solar Sailing Spacecraft Prepped for 2015 Launch

October 12th, 2013

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Source: NOAA/NASA

Sunjammer solar sail takes flight. Courtesy: Space Services

Set for an early 2015 liftoff is the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite designed to monitor and warn of harmful solar activity that could impact Earth.

DSCOVR is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

Last month, NOAA announced that DSCOVR cleared a major review and is on track for its boost into space.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is to loft the spacecraft, along with other payloads, including the NASA Sunjammer solar sail.

Advance warning

NOAA will manage the DSCOVR mission, giving advance warning of approaching solar storms with the potential to cripple electrical grids, communications, GPS navigation, air travel, satellite operations and human spaceflight.

DSCOVR will orbit at the L1 libration. That’s a stable point in space where gravitational forces are in equilibrium – a place in space roughly one million miles away from Earth between the Earth and the sun.

From that location, the satellite can pinpoint solar storms before their impacts reach the planet.

Propellant-less propulsion

The Sunjammer solar sail mission is NASA’s second in-space demonstration of sail technology — the potential for propellant-less propulsion by solar sail.

When deployed, Sunjammer will become the largest solar sail ever flown. It’s all about size, with the sail almost 13,000 square feet in area – about one-third the size of a football field!

The Sunjammer mission is funded by NASA’s Science and Technology Mission Directorate as a Technology Demonstration Mission, as the final step before the technology can be “infused” into other space missions.

Cosmic archive

The primary contractor for the Sunjammer mission is L’Garde, industry leader in developing solar sail technology, and is responsible for overall mission design, development, and operations.

Aboard the sailcraft, the Sunjammer Cosmic Archive will carry the ideas, writings, music, images, poetry, history, culture, and even unique biological signatures from people all over the world.

The Sunjammer Cosmic Archive is provided by Space Services – the exclusive commercial partner for the Sunjammer mission.

By Leonard David