Solar Sail

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solar sail

[′sō·lər ′sāl]
(aerospace engineering)
A surface of a highly polished material upon which solar light radiation exerts a pressure. Also known as photon sail.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Solar Sail


(or photon sail), a proposed means of spacecraft propulsion. It consists of very thin opaque sheeting—for example, a metallized polymeric film—that is set up on the vehicle in space and is capable, over a rather long period of time, of imparting a substantial speed to the vehicle owing to the action of solar radiation on the sail (seeLIGHT PRESSURE). A limitation on the use of a solar sail is that it can move the spacecraft in only one direc tion: away from the sun. Moreover, the force exerted by the solar radiation on the sail is small and decreases in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the sun. The solar sail may find application in interplanetary flights.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.