Designer's Corner

September 09, 1996

Solar propulsion

Recent tests of a metal-coated graphite power source promise low-cost thrust
and electricity for satellites and other space vehicles. Here's the scenario:

Conventional booster rockets launch the vehicle into low-earth orbit. Deployment of inflatable mirrors then focuses sunlight into a solar engine, heating liquid hydrogen fuel. Escaping through a nozzle, the expanded gas "thrusts" the payload from low-earth to geosynchronous orbit in 30 days or less with twice the efficiency of chemical propulsion systems.

On-orbit, the solar engine stays with the satellite, turning trapped solar heat into electricity. Because it replaces batteries and solar arrays, the "integrated solar upper stage" cuts payload weight and launch costs.

Office of Public Affairs, Phillips Laboratory, 5 Pollux Dr./PA, Edwards AFB, CA 93524-7042, (805) 275-5465.

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