Paris-based space exploration and interplanetary transportation startup Gama has raised €2 million as it aims to successfully deploy a solar sail this coming October.
The process of using a solar sail as a means of space propulsion harnesses the laws of physics and eliminates costly chemical or electric mechanisms.
But let's take a step back to the textbooks, shall we? Newton’s First Law of Motion states, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” and Third Law of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.
A solar sail is a large reflective surface, typically made of BoPET (biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate), aka Mylar, or polyimide, that serves to collect pressure exerted by tiny particles (photons) present in solar electromagnetic radiation. While photons contain no mass (m), they do travel at the speed of light (c) and thus can be used interchangeably with energy (E).
Or rather, E=mc²
When removing the gravitational force of Earth as well as any coefficient of drag in the vacuum of space, this continuous bombardment of energy not only propels a payload in tow but could theoretically accelerate it to 20% of the speed of light, 59,958,491.6 m/s, limited only by terminal velocity.
Solar sail technology has been proven, with JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency successfully launching its IKAROS spacecraft in 2010 and sailing to Venus over the course of 6 months. NASA is also developing solar sail technologies, with both lunar and solar missions planned.
And now, armed with €2 million in funding Gama is getting into the solar sailing game as well. Slated for launch in October 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Gama’s 73.3m2 solar sail will be deployed from a 6U CubeSat satellite at an altitude of 550 km.
Noting that the gravitational forces of Earth are only overcome by photonic pressure above 800 km, co-founder Andrew Nutter commented, “This is just to demonstrate the deployment of the sail. Our next mission will be at a higher altitude to demonstrate control of the sail.”
Gama’s €2 million in funding was provided by BPIFrance, the French Space Agency, the CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales), and serial entrepreneurs and space investors including Nicolas Pinto (Apple), Marie Outtier (Twitter), Possible Ventures, Kima Ventures, and Romain Afflelou (Cosmo Connected).
“Private companies are proving that space innovation can happen fast, unlocking vast commercial opportunities. We are delighted to have the support of the BPI, the CNES and some illustrious business angels to reach an important milestone,” added Nutter. “This mission will be followed by a second launch in 2024 to test the deployment of a larger sail and onboard navigation system. In 2025, we will become one of the very few to explore further, at significantly lower cost, with a mission to Venus.”