NanoLab director leads design of better solar sails

Center of a pale white and yellow galaxy spiral.

Kristofer Pister, director of the Berkeley Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory at CITRIS, and researchers from the UC Berkeley Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center and the Space Sciences Laboratory, are working to make space exploration more cost-effective and accessible. 

The Berkeley Low-cost Interplanetary Solar Sail (BLISS) project aims to construct a fleet of small autonomous spacecraft propelled entirely by solar radiation. The combination of their small size and design using off-the-shelf electronics will ideally allow for thousands of these solar sails to be deployed for the cost of a single spacecraft launch. Pister and his team are considering several concept missions, including capturing unprecedented images of near-Earth asteroids and retrieving microdust samples from comet plumes. 

“We were excited by the idea that you could potentially take an iPhone camera, orbit around one of these things, take a thousand high-resolution color photographs from a very close distance and then beam that information down,” said Pister.

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