The UK Space Agency has announced that British scientists are now working with Nasa to develop the spacecraft, known as Sunjammer, which will use a 13,000 square foot solar sail to propel itself nearly two million miles towards the sun.
The sail will then help control the spacecraft in a steady position in orbit around the sun where it will act as a kind of forward observatory of the star at the centre of our solar system.
Sensitive instruments on board will provide scientist with an early warning of solar storms that can produce streams of particles capable of damaging satellites and power grids on earth.
Dr Jonathan Eastwood, a lecturer in physics at Imperial College London who is one of the scientists working on the project, said the mission’s main aim is to demonstrate the use of solar sails as a way of powering and controlling a spacecraft on long missions.
He said it would also give scientists a greater understanding of so called solar wind – the stream of particles ejected from the sun – and its impact on the Earth.
According to the report, the Sunjammer sail will be one-third of an acre in size but weigh only 70 pounds. The name for this innovative spacecraft comes from an Arthur C. Clarke short story about “solar sailing”, Gray writes.