Largest ever solar sail could launch in 2014.
NASA are preparing the final design for a massive 13,000 square foot solar sail, which could launch as early as next year. When collapsed, the sail is the size of a dishwasher and weighs just 70 pounds. Once in space the unit will unfurl and catch sunlight, or more importantly a combination of photons and solar gasses being ejected from the sun, which will very slowly act to speed up the sail and push it out to a point about 3,000,000 kilometres out from Earth.
Once proven, solar sail technology could enable a host of versatile space missions, including flying an advanced space-weather warning system to more quickly and accurately alert satellite operators and utilities on Earth of geomagnetic storms caused by coronal mass ejections from the sun. The technology also could provide an economical solution to removing some of the more than 8,000 pieces of orbital launch debris ringing the planet; conduct station-keeping operations, or hover at high latitudes above Earth for communications and observation; and could drive a variety of propellantless, deep-space exploration and supply ferrying missions.