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Team Encounter and NASA Langley to Develop and Design a New Form of Propulsion for Space Travel

Press Release From: Team Encounter
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

This new technology is also expected to provide a major advancement in the way weather is reported worldwide.

Team Encounter (Houston, Texas), and NASA Langley, are jointly developing solar sail technology as a commercial propulsion system for spacecraft. The propulsion technology uses solar sails to place spacecraft in non-standard orbits such as pole sitter orbits. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Langley Research Center (LaRC), acting under the authority of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, will jointly work with Team Encounter to design and develop the solar sail system.

NASA LaRC has, among its many centers of excellence, particular expertise in the area of Ultra Lightweight and Inflatable structures, with unique analytical tools, diagnostics, and facilities. Team Encounter will receive the benefits of NASA LaRC's expertise in structures and materials and NASA LaRC will benefit from knowledge gained and involvement with state-of-the-art deployable space structures for solar sail applications.

"This is a very important collaboration to further cement the routine use of solar sails in space," said Greg Manuel, Space Structures Leader, NASA LaRC.

Recent ground-based tests of Team Encounter's solar sail technology at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA and at L'Garde, Inc., in Tustin, CA, convinced the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the company's development efforts represent a major step forward in space propulsion.

Team Encounter has successfully completed the first phase of a contract with NOAA, and has announced its intentions to integrate the solar sail spacecraft technology with NOAA interests to better understand Earth's weather. Team Encounter is considering placing its first test flight, called the EARTHVIEW flight, into a 'polesitter' orbit.

"These solar sail developments by Team Encounter advance the timeline by which practical polesitter orbits could occur by at least five years," said Patricia Mulligan, Lead Planner, Space Weather Requirements, at NOAA. "The potential uses of such 'pole sitters' are still being evaluated, but it appears likely that they could inexpensively relay data much faster from both lower Earth orbiting weather satellites and sun orbiting monitors. And the constant view of the polar regions rotating beneath could be a major advancement in the field of meteorology and space weather. The biggest near term beneficiary would be safer and improved operations at Antartic research stations."

Team Encounter will be using a state-of-the-art solar sail to power the Team Encounter spacecraft beyond the solar system. When fully deployed, at almost 1.2 acres, the Team Encounter solar sail may be visible in the night sky with the naked eye for approximately one week, and will be the largest single structure ever deployed in space. This solar sail will propel the Team Encounter spacecraft into deep space at approximately 67,000 miles per hour (approximately four times the speed of the Space Shuttle). In development for several years, a solar sail uses an endless supply of photons from the sun to exert force on the solar sail enabling the spacecraft to be propelled forward into deep space. High acceleration, and free solar fuel make the solar sail option attractive to Team Encounter.

The 4,900 square meter, solar sail is being designed and built by L'Garde, Inc., a Tustin, California based company founded in 1971 specializing in inflatable space structures. L'Garde has designed and manufactured approximately 150 inflatable objects that have successfully flown in space.

Using a base material one-seventy-sixth the thickness of a human hair, the Team Encounter solar sail will be 76 m by 76 m with a mass of 19kg. The Team Encounter spacecraft will unfurl the giant solar sail at about 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) from Earth.

"When successfully flown, the Team Encounter mission will demonstrate a major advance in space propulsion, establish the financial viability of entertainment-oriented space missions, and give 3-5 million people a chance to participate in a real space mission," said Charles Chafer, president of Team Encounter. "The solar sail technology provides a low cost alternative to conventional propulsion approaches, opens a new opportunity to develop missions outside of the solar system, and enables a variety of new technologies allowing the exploration of the universe."

For more information on the Team Encounter mission, visit www.TeamEncounter.com, or call 1-800-ORBIT-11.

For more information on NASA, visit: www.nasa.gov, or www.larc.nasa.gov

For information on NOAA's Space Environment Center, visit: www.sec.noaa.gov

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