CMA CGM sponsor of Gama, the first “solar sail” in Europe

Best start for the “Gamma Alpha” mission. The solar sail developed by the start-up Ile-de-France Gama has just arrived in the cosmos on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, packaged in a small satellite weighing 12 kg, itself on board a Falcon 9 rocket from the giant American SpaceX. After two years of research and design, the machine took off from Cape Canaveral (Florida) in the early afternoon.

The Gamma solar sail measures 73.3 m², weighs 400 grams, but is 50 times thinner than a strand of hair (2.5 microns). It doesn’t use wind, but sunlight to move. What to do with the fuel used today by ships, and make some savings. During this first mission, the sail must first open correctly, then it will serve as the “engine” for a small CubeSat-type satellite. The whole point of the operation is whether this tool designed by Gama, a company founded in 2020, represents a reliable, fast and low cost explore the Milky Way in the coming decades.

If the concept of a solar veil is new in Europe, it is not new worldwide. In fact, the scientific department of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) deployed the Ikaros sail in 2010. Nine years later, in the United States, the Planetary Society group also experimented with its own model called Lightsail 2 .

The solar sail introduces itself as ” tomorrow’s space transport infrastructure “. This technology is based exclusively on the principle of photonic propulsion. In other words, the solar sail only needs light particles emitted by the Sun to move through space. When the photons hit the reflective surface of the sail, the radiative pressure allows for the object to move forward.It is then the position of the sail in relation to the rays of the Sun that determines the trajectory of the machine.

This method ” could theoretically accelerate to speeds never reached by objects created by mankind (60,000 km/s, editor’s note) “Explains Gama in a statement. As satellites are becoming smaller and lighter, the solar sail may represent, in the future, the appropriate means of transport for space exploration.

Tuesday, January 3 – SpaceX rocket containing Gamma Alpha takes off (credit: Gamma Twitter)

Raising two million euros in March 2022

The solar sail would, according to Andrew Nutter, CEO and co-founder of Gama, “ the only economically viable alternative to continue exploring the solar system and carrying out increasingly complex missions “. Thanks to the radiative pressure, which offers a constant acceleration without fuel, the solar sail would allow to break the costs and to start sustainable missions ” 10 to 20 times cheaper compared to current solutions – an operation to Venus today is worth nearly $200 million.

And the argument seduces. Gama raised two million euros last March from the national center for spatial studies (CNES), BPI France, private investors (Kima Ventures, Possible Ventures) and business angels, including Nicolas Pinto (Apple), Marie Outtier (Twitter ) and Romain Afflelou (Connected Cosmo). Among the partners of the Gama project, there are also public and private companies… and the Marseille shipowner CMA CGM, sponsor of the mission launched on Tuesday through sponsorships.

credit: range

CMA CGM of Marseille in support of the Gama project

The gaze increasingly turned to what’s going on up there “, in the words of Rodolphe Saadé, head of the group, the carrier positions itself as a sponsor of the space operation launched by Gama. CMA CGM wants to use satellite information to optimize its transportation operations around the world.

In particular with more complete data on navigation and maritime conditions in real time. The Marseille group is also in discussion with Gama about ” transport and logistics opportunities in space for the future “, confides Andrew Nutter to Gomet’. Last December, CMA CGM exceeded the limit of 10% in the capital of Eutelsat, the European satellite communications operator.

> Tangram, the future of training and innovation at CMA CGM in Marseille

Rodolphe Saadé, Tuesday, March 1st, in Marseille (Credit JYD/ Gomet')
Rodolphe Saadé, the new owner of La Provence (Credit JYD/Gomet’)

Other ongoing Gamma missions

The Alpha Gamma mission will allow testing, about 550 kilometers from Earth, the commissioning, deployment and subsequent deorbiting of a solar sail. If the experiment goes as planned, Gama will continue his project under the best of auspices. ” This is a decisive step towards the democratization of this new means of space propulsion “, says the company in a statement.

This first technical demonstration will be followed, until 2024, by a second mission, called “Gamma Beta”. It will be this time, for the space technology Ile-de-France, to prove that the solar sail, in addition to correctly deploying, is also able to move precisely in space, from point A to point B. A final experimental navigation, towards a distant celestial body, is expected in 2025 at the earliest. Gama then plans to market its product, mainly to space agencies.

Useful links :

> [Espace] CMA CGM crosses the threshold of 10% in Eutelsat’s capital
> Tangram, the future of training and innovation at CMA CGM in Marseille

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