The Sunjammer solar sail mission has effectively been cancelled after NASA withdrew its funding. The Kapton 38 x 38m solar sail was being built under NASA Space Technology Programme (STP). by L’Garde of Tustin, California. It had been due to be launched in early 2015 as a co-payload to the DSCOVR – Deep Space Climate Observatory mission on a Falcon 9 launch to the L1 Lagrange Sun-Earth position. From there Sunjammer would use the sun’s photon pressure as its propulsion system.
However, an integration design problem meant that Sunjammer was unlikely to be ready in time, leading to the decision to suspend work on the project. L’Garde is laying of 16 members of its 35 strong workforce as a result. With no other launch going to a suitable location in the near future, NASA desided to pull the plug on funding. NASA has, to date, spent US$21 million.
The news is also a blow to the UK space effort as the craft was due to carry two UK-built instruments: the Solar Wind Analyser (SWAN) developed by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of University College London, and the MAGIC magnetometer developed by the Blackett Laboratory of Imperial College. Scientist’s hoped to use the instruments to work out a better method of giving warning of solar/geomagnetic storms.
Comment by David Todd: This is precisely the sort of innovative low cost science mission that the UK Government, via its UK Space Agency, should step in and rescue.