Ball Aerospace has been selected to support a NASA small satellite technology demonstration, Solar Cruiser, the company reported on Wednesday. Ball will perform several mission-critical functions, including the integration and test of the satellite bus with the solar sail system that will form the completed Sailcraft.
"Solar Cruiser will be an important step in the advancement of solar propulsion technology that could enable future missions studying the Sun, space weather and deep space," said Dr. Makenzie Lystrup, vice president and general manager, Civil Space, Ball Aerospace.
Ball’s efforts will inform on the use of solar photons for propulsion in space. The Solar Cruiser will be one of four missions launching with the NASA Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), currently scheduled in 2025.
Ball Aerospace will procure a Venus-class microsat commercial bus, define mission-specific modifications and perform the integration and test of the completed Sailcraft. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will deploy an 18,000-square-foot sail to catch solar radiation to propel the vehicle. Les Johnson, from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is the mission's principal investigator.
“[Solar Cruiser] builds on our legacy as a long-time mission partner to NASA and the scientific community, at large, in the development of leading-edge science and technology to achieve science at any scale."
In addition to Solar Cruiser, Ball Aerospace completed the spacecraft and payload assembly integration of NASA's Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space-based astrophysics observatory, in Jan. 2021. With the completion, Ball will start environmental testing of the observatory, including instruments and the spacecraft bus.
The observatory has been scheduled to launch in late-2021. Once on orbit, IXPE will measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. The measurements will enable NASA to improve the understanding of the fundamental physics of extreme objects in the universe, such as black holes.
IXPE is a Small Explorer (SMEX) mission, under NASA's Astrophysics Explorer Program, which is led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and supported by Ball Aerospace, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado Boulder and other partners.
Under the mission, Ball will deliver the IXPE spacecraft, mechanical and structural elements of the payload, observatory assembly, and integration and test. The spacecraft for IXPE is based on Ball's smallest Ball Configurable Platform (BCP) model.