2015.B.4.2. Deployment Technology of a Heliogyro Solar Sail for Long Duration Propulsion


Peerawan Wiwattananon (1)
Robert G. Bryant (2)
William W. Edmonson (1,3)
William B. Moore (1,4)
Jared M. Bell (1)

  1. National Institute of Aerospace, United States of America
  2. NASA, United States of America
  3. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, United States of America
  4. Hampton University, United States of America




CubeSat, non-chemical propulsion, heliogyro solar sail, interplanetary mission, stationary keeping mission


Interplanetary, multi-mission, station-keeping capabilities will require that a spacecraft employ a highly efficient propulsion-navigation system. The majority of space propulsion systems are fuel-based and require the vehicle to carry and consume fuel as part of the mission. Once the fuel is consumed, the mission is set, thereby limiting the potential capability. Alternatively, a method that derives its acceleration and direction from solar photon pressure using a solar sail would eliminate the requirement of onboard fuel to meet mission objectives. MacNeal[1] theorized that the heliogyro-configured solar sail architecture would be lighter, less complex, cheaper, and less risky to deploy a large sail area versus a masted sail. As sail size increases, the masted sail requires longer booms resulting in increased mass, and chaotic uncontrollable deployment [2]. With a heliogyro, the sail membrane is stowed as a roll of thin film forming a blade when deployed that can extend up to kilometers [3, 4]. Thus, a benefit of using a heliogyro-configured solar sail propulsion technology is the mission scalability as compared to masted versions, which are size constrained. Studies have shown that interplanetary travel is achievable by the heliogyro solar sail concept [1]. Heliogyro solar sail concept also enables multi-mission missions such as sample returns, and supply transportation from Earth to Mars as well as station-keeping missions to provide enhanced warning of solar storm [1].

This paper describes deployment technology being developed at NASA Langley Research Center to deploy and control the center-of-mass/center-of-pressure using a twin bladed heliogyro solar sail 6-unit (6U) CubeSat. The 6U comprises 2x2U blade deployers and 2U for payload. The 2U blade deployers can be mounted to 6U or larger scaled systems to serve as a non-chemical in-space propulsion system. A single solar sail blade length is estimated to be 2.4 km with a total area from two blades of 720 m2; total allowable weight of a 6U CubeSat is ~8 kg. This makes the theoretical characteristic acceleration of ~0.75 mm/s2 at I AU (astronomical unit), when compared to IKAROS [5] (0.005 mm/s2) and NanoSail-D [6] (0.02 mm/s2).

[1] MacNeal R.H. et al., NASA CR-1329(1969)
[2] Lappas V. et al., Advanced in Space Research, 48(2011)
[3] Wiwattananon P., Bryant R.G., NASA Technical Memorandum (2015)
[4] Wilkie K.W. et al., 3rd International Solar Sail Symposium, (2013)
[5] http://www.jspec.jaxa.jp/e/activity/ikaros.html (11-3-2014)
[6] Johnson L. et al., ActaAstronautica, 68(2011)


  • Download slides in PDF format here (4MB)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: