Imperial Space Society’s solar sail bound for high-altitude balloon mission


Project Svarog Team at the Esrange Space Center, Sweden

Student-led ‘Project Svarog’ has been accepted by the BEXUS programme to investigate solar sail deployments in near-vacuum conditions.

Students from the Imperial College Space Society have been selected to launch their experimental solar sail onboard a high-altitude balloon mission from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA).

'Project Svarog,' led by Aeronautics students Piotr Fil and Gil Barbosa Ribeiro, and Mechanical Engineering student Beatriz Soriano Tortosa, focuses on investigating the structural properties of large-scale deployable sail in near-vacuum conditions. The team is aiming to advance solar sailing technology and demonstrate low-cost interstellar travel in a mission to send a spacecraft outside of the solar system.

Solar sails provide a lightweight method of spacecraft propulsion utilising the momentum of light particles (photons) akin to the effect of wind on a boat's sail. Solar sails, often made of reflective metallic materials, effectively bounce photons, generating thrust. Like selecting sail fabric and shape for optimal wind capture, optimising materials and configurations is critical for solar sail design.

Balloon-Mission Launch

Being accepted onto the BEXUS (Balloon Experiments for University Students) programme will allow the team to conduct experiments in near-space conditions with low atmospheric pressure.

Through the BEXUS launch the team hopes to address the question ‘Can we reliably scale membrane dynamics from small-scale tests to large-scale space structures?’

For the balloon mission, the team will deploy a large solar sail and then spin the sail to simulate the conditions it would experience during a deep-space mission. They will use cameras to record the deployment and spin-up processes and analyse the sail’s dynamics.

Render of proposed solar sail for the BEXUS launchThe team will seek to validate the novel numerical models, that they have developed in-house, by which they can predict the behaviour of large-scale structures.

Acceptance of the project marks a huge achievement for the team, with the opportunity to gain valuable insights into sail dynamics and the development of efficient and reliable large-scale space structures.

Project co-lead and Aeronautics student Gil Barbosa Ribeiro said: "The work we are doing at Project Svarog is allowing us to push the boundaries of space exploration and interstellar travel through the development of cutting-edge solar sailing technology. Launching in BEXUS 34 will mark a significant milestone for the team and bring us one step closer to our goal."

The team have also announced a partnership with Accu (a global supplier of engineering components), who will provide the team with quality components and fasteners, enhancing their investigation into solar sail deployments for the BEXUS programme.


Ayesha Khan

Ayesha Khan
Department of Aeronautics


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