Sailing in space. At a time of ecological transition and the search for non-polluting modes of propulsion, Gama, a young start-up from Ile-de-France, intends to use sunlight to revolutionize space transport, using wind as an energy source. for sailboats
The company announced on Tuesday, March 22, that it had raised two million euros from the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), Bpifrance and private entrepreneurs. Funds that will allow it to carry out its first mission, called “Alpha Range”, consisting, in October, of deploying a 73.3 square meter solar sail in space at an altitude of 550 kilometres. A delicate operation because, in order to be put into orbit by a SpaceX rocket, this fine canvas, made up of four trapezoids of almost 20 square meters, will have been carefully folded by hand before entering a CubeSat, that is, a small satellite. the size of a shoe box.
A second mission, scheduled for 2023 or 2024, will test navigation this time. And, if everything turns out to be conclusive, in 2025, a solar sail of 400 to 500 square meters, capable of carrying a load of about twenty kilos, will leave for distant celestial bodies, starting with Venus. With on board a spectroscope, telecommunications equipment or a small camera.
“Right now, when I talk about this project, people are amazed. They are more in wow mode! Show us what works. points out Louis de Gouyon Matignon, the co-founder, with Thibaud Elziere and Andrew Nutter, of this start-up with twelve employees. For this thirtysomething, it is about taking advantage of photonic propulsion, that is, the pressure produced by photons when they come into contact with a reflecting surface.. “The sail acts as a mirror, like sailboats that take advantage of the wind. » The closer it gets to the Sun, the stronger the acceleration. According to the simulations, after a hundred days, a solar sail could reach 14,000 km/h and, three years later, 240,000 km/h.
“We want to go as far as possible”
“We are changing the paradigm”, adds this space enthusiast. “Today it takes more than ten years and 500 million dollars [452 millions d’euros] to prepare for a scientific mission to Venus. With a flying sail, we will complete the project in one or two years, at a cost of 10 to 20 million dollars. » However, these are not the same types of offers. “On one side you have a Ferrari, on the other a Clio or a Fiat”, recognize. The idea is also to accelerate the development of deep space exploration. “Our goal is to go as far as possible, he gets excited, because once the solar sail goes, nothing stops it. It could even go, like the Voyager probes, beyond the Solar System. But we can also change its orientation and why not, in some cases, bring it back with samples taken from an asteroid. »
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