It has been proposed to use solar panels as solar sails and drag control by alternately feathering panels during different phases of orbit. It is claimed this can alter light pressure and drag enough to maneuver a satellite. The May 7, 2019 Economist article Spacecrafts’ solar panels can serve double-duty as sails; Sometimes they used air molecules. Sometimes sunlight:

… The technology is now precise enough to imagine using differential drag to permit satellites to rendezvous, according to Pini Gurfil of Technion University, in Israel. Dr Gurfil points to impressively close approaches between the small CubeSats that are part of a test project called qb50, which is led by the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, in Belgium.

For a CubeSat smaller than a shoebox, with solar panels the size of two old-fashioned record-album sleeves, harnessing sunlight in this way should lift its orbit by several dozen metres a day, according to Dr Gurfil. Not a huge amount. But enough, for example, to dodge a potential collision with a piece of space debris—of which there is an increasing amount in orbit. Technion will try this idea out soon. It expects, in what Dr Gurfil claims will be a first, to launch three test satellites in about six months’ time. The mission is named SAMSON

There are several internet references to a SAMSON launch in 2021 and to its "innovative propulsion system" but I could find no details on the success (or otherwise) of the solar sail propulsion.

Has propulsion utilizing solar sail / drag effects of solar panels achieved orbital rendezvous? If it works, could it have utility for multiple rendezvous for de-orbiting space junk?



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