April 13, 2016

NASA to harness solar wind travel with Finnish invention

The E-Sails’ propulsion system could send a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.
The E-Sails’ propulsion system could send a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.
Nasa/MSFC

NASA has started testing Finnish HERTS E-Sail concept at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the US.

HERTS E-Sail concept is built upon the electric sail invention of Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The concept could harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space. In practise, the E-Sails’ propulsion system could send a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.

NASA utilises Finnish technology to reach the edge of our solar system (heliopause) three times faster than before.

NASA utilises Finnish technology to reach the edge of our solar system (heliopause) three times faster than before.

iStock.com/Johannes Gerhardus Swanepoel

Steering of a spacecraft could also be accomplished by modulating the E-Sails’ wire’s voltage individually as the spacecraft rotates. Practically the E-Sail would give engineers the ability to steer the spacecraft, similar to the sails of a boat.

In 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to ever cross the heliopause and reach interstellar space. Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 took almost 35 years to make its 121 AU journey. The goal of HERTS is to develop an E-Sail that could make the same journey in less than one-third of that time.

“Our investigation has shown that an interstellar probe mission propelled by an E-Sail could travel to the heliopause in just under 10 years,” says Bruce Wiegmann, an engineer in Marshall’s Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. “This could revolutionise the scientific returns of these types of missions.”

The HERTS E-Sail concept development and testing is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, which encourages visionary ideas that could transform future missions with the creation of radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts.

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