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Square clipper sail designed by Jerome L. Wright.

Solar sails of all varieties consist of a large, flimsy sail and some kind of payload that holds such things as antennas, computers, solar panels, guidance sensors, science instruments, cargo containers, or crew cabins. For most solar sails, what this boils down to is a small, heavy mass attached to the middle of a huge, lightweight sail.

Sail film is typically too flimsy to support itself in space and requires a support structure to keep its shape and connect to the spacecraft bus and payload. Without support, when sunlight pushes on the sail, it will collapse and flow around the payload. Two ways people have come up with to stabilize the sail and prevent its are to support the sail in 3 dimensions with a structure or to spin the sail. Both methods work well to hold the sail flat so that it can catch as much sunlight as possible.


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