French startup raises funds to develop solar sails

(ORDO NEWS) — A French startup has opened an initial funding round to begin testing solar sails, which it believes could drastically reduce the cost of distant space missions.

Paris-based Gama announced on March 22 that it has raised €2 million in seed funding to start work on solar sails, including a demonstration mission it plans to launch in October.

Funding came from the French state investment bank BPI, the French space agency CNES and several private investors.

The funding will allow the company to complete its first Gama Alpha spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in October as part of the SpaceX rideshare mission. The six-unit cubesat will test the deployment of a 73.3 square meter solar sail.

Andrew Nutter, co-founder of Gama, said in an interview that Alpha’s primary goal is to test the sail’s deployment mechanism.

“We’re using a spin-sail solution,” he said, slowing down the satellite’s rotation and using centrifugal force to deploy the sail. “This allows us to have much larger surfaces in the future and reduce costs.”

The technique eliminates the need for arrows to deploy and stabilize the sail. The LightSail 2 mission, a Planetary Society solar sail demonstration launched in 2019, used arrows to deploy its sail. “We tried to learn as much as we could from what they did and see where we can improve things,” he said.

Our spacecraft will not generate thrust due to atmospheric drag in low orbit. “It will be launched to an altitude of 550 kilometers, which will be a very low orbit to show thrust in any meaningful way,” he said.

The second mission, scheduled to launch by early 2024, will go to a higher orbit of at least 800 kilometers to generate sail thrust and test sail control.

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