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NASA chose NanoAvionics to build a 12U nanosatellite bus, which will carry NASA's new Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3), according to a Thursday press release. If it deploys without mishaps in low-Earth orbit, it may open the door for even larger solar sail missions in the future.

Solar sailing as a term was first coined by the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in a 1964 short story called "Sunjammer." In his story, he detailed a means of powering small-scale spacecraft without expending expensive rocket propellant. Instead of conventional fuel, solar sails use large, mirror-like sails that transform the power of the sun into sustainable velocity, reports Popular Mechanics.

The product of a contract between NASA and Ames Research Center and AST, NanoAvianics' 12U bus will carry the agency's payload into low Earth orbit (LEO), along with a roughly 74 square meter (800 square foot) composite boom and solar sail system.

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