Solar sailing is a unique form of propulsion where a spacecraft gains momentum from incident photons. Since sails are not limited by reaction mass, they provide continual acceleration, reduced only by the lifetime of the lightweight film in the space environment and the distance to the Sun. Practical solar sails can expand the number of possible missions that are difficult by conventional means. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is concentrating research into the utilization of ultra lightweight materials for spacecraft propulsion. Solar sails are generally composed of a highly reflective metallic front layer, a thin polymeric substrate, and occasionally a highly emissive back surface. The Space Environmental Effects Team at MSFC is actively characterizing candidate sails to evaluate the thermo-optical and mechanical properties after exposure to electrons. This paper will discuss the preliminary results of this research.

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