Gama, a Paris-based New Space startup specialising in solar sails that could allow satellites to travel faster and enable more cost-effective missions to deep space, is expecting its first payload to depart for low Earth orbit from SpaceX's commercial launch facility in coming days.
In a comment emailed to Tech.eu, the company confirmed its maiden space satellite, the Gama Alpha, would be dispatched as cargo on board SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch rocket.
Gama Alpha is a cube satellite that looks the size of a shoebox and will be used solely to test the deployment of Gama's solar sail technology.
It will depart the SpaceX station in Cape Canaveral on January 3 at around 1600 hours CET. The event will be simulcast online via SpaceX's YouTube channel.
Gama was founded in 2020. It has spent the past two to three years or so perfecting what is billed as Europe's first ever solar sail, a 73 square metre photon radiation panel that's been designed to transport satellites and space cargoes into the outer Solar System, to study moons around Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus.
Solar sails would harvest photons from the nearest light source, typically the sun, to propel space craft. This would allow space exploration vehicles to travel without the use of bulky liquid propellants, which cost money and depend on sparking a chemical reaction on board to produce movement.
Made from reflective materials that harness photon radiation pressure, solar sails would instead allow satellites to function like an old sailing ship meandering its way across the grand ocean.
Each photon charge would produce a similar effect to a gust of wind, each providing a budge to drive the space craft around the solar system.
Given that space has precious few particles it has almost no gravity to slow the solar sail down, which means even a slender photon charge should be enough to keep the space vehicle moving forward.
Using the light captured from stars could potentially give space explorers a free supply of energy. Aside from the cost of sourcing fuel propellants, these also add significant mass to the vehicle that reduces its speed. The exploration mission ultimately has to wind down when the tank runs dry, unless the space craft can be refuelled promptly.
The core mechanism of solar sails may sound straightforward, but the process will rely on a highly intricate array of intelligent sensors, flight computers and actuators to navigate the complexity of space successfully.
Last month, Gama launched a recruitment drive to find embedded software practitioners who can help deliver "reliable code" that will act as the "heartbeat" of Gama-operated spacecraft.
While cracking New Space is one of innovation's most challenging sectors, the field is poised to benefit from software and technology-led efficiencies. In Gama's case, the team has opted to use a performance programming language called Rust language (Rustlang) that's preferred for its ability to prevent programming bugs from slipping into the systems' on-board memory.