Paris-based Gama, an aerospace company, announced that it is set to launch its first solar sail to space on Tuesday with the support of the French Space Agency — the CNES, and private companies, including CMA CGM Group.
The French company says the satellite containing the solar sail will be successfully placed in orbit by SpaceX Falcon 9, which is scheduled to launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA on January 3, 2023 at 9:56am ET (6:56am PT, 14:56 GMT, 15:56 Paris).
What is a solar sail?
Simply said, a solar sail uses sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need to carry fuel.
Typically, solar sails rely on photonic propulsion using the pressure produced by photons when they bounce off a reflective surface.
In small quantities, the force is weak, however, when applied to a large surface and in the void of space, it allows the spacecraft to accelerate continuously.
This revolutionary way of propelling a spacecraft through space can open up new scientific and commercial possibilities in our solar system and beyond, claims the company.
With this launch, the aerospace company aims to test the deployment and control of the sail.
“In space, the sun’s radiative pressure allows constant acceleration. The result? Missions that are 10 to 20 times less expensive and no longer limited by a fuel budget. A solar sail is poetic, inherently sustainable, and dramatically lowers the cost of access to deep space or unstable orbits,” says Andrew Nutter, Gama co-founder.
Mission Gama Alpha
The company’s first demonstration mission, “Gama Alpha”, is a satellite placed in orbit at an altitude of 550 km by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The 6U cubesat weighs just 12 kilograms, including the packed 73.3m2 sail.
According to the company, the primary objective of Gama Alpha is to deploy and control the sail, demonstrating that a very large sail can be controlled from a cubesat and receiving flight data to improve simulations and control algorithms.
The final phase for Alpha will be deorbiting the satellite, benefiting from the Earth’s remnant atmosphere at mission altitude. The large surface area and small mass will cause the satellite to deorbit rapidly, minimising the risk of debris and demonstrating a sail can be used to deorbit satellites at the end of life.
Gama has partnered with the Lithuanian company NanoAvionics for several parts, including electrical systems, telecommunications, onboard cards, etc.
“The technology developed by Gama is unique in that the company works on the deployment and control of ever-larger surfaces in space. Our ability to deploy a sail the size of a tennis court from a satellite barely larger than a shoebox opens up new perspectives,” says Thibaud Elziere, Gama co-founder.
Mission Gama Beta
The company’s objective for the second mission — Gama Beta, would be to demonstrate sustained navigation.
As per the company’s claims, Beta will be launched at twice the altitude and focus on “navigation,” going from A to B using only photonic propulsion and proving all key elements of the technology.
“In short, we are building the space transportation infrastructure of tomorrow. While companies today are focused on low earth orbit, we have decided to look further afield and prepare for future space operations. Thanks to the solar sail, we offer an economically viable alternative to continue exploring the Solar System and carry out increasingly complex missions,” concludes Louis de Goüyon Matignon, Gama co-founder.
Gama: What you need to know
Founded by Louis de Gouyon Matignon, Thibaud Elziere, and Andrew Nutter, Gama is a French space company to democratise access to deep space using low-cost, reliable, and scalable solar sails.
The company is offering its photonic propulsion technology for commercial and scientific missions to explore and exploit resources in our Solar system.