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Home Insider NASA taps into the magic of diffraction to build solar sailing spacecraft

NASA taps into the magic of diffraction to build solar sailing spacecraft


Sails have propelled earthlings across the seas for millennia, but NASA believes their future is off-world.

The space agency has unveiled plans to develop a new solar sail system for a demonstration mission.

Dubbed Diffractive Solar Sailing, the project won Phase III of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which supports visionary space technologies.

Greetings humanoids

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Those picked for Phase III are the closest to becoming real — so a spacecraft powered by solar sails isn’t a quixotic prospect.

Indeed, variations of the technique have already reaped results.

In 2010, a Japanese probe called Ikaros became the first craft to successfully use the tech in space. NASA later unfurled a solar sail of its own while orbiting Earth.

Yet the space agency says the new proposal has a special power: diffraction.

Diffractive solar sails, depicted in this conceptual illustration, could enable missions to hard-to-reach places, like orbits over the Sun’s poles. Credit: MacKenzi Martin