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First Ever Solar Sail Spacecraft Will Provide Test Data and Technology to NOAA (National Weather Service)

Press Release From: Team Encounter
Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

Team Encounter, a project of Encounter 2001, LLC (Houston, Texas), and the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced today the awarding of a contract to Team Encounter.

Team Encounter will be using a state-of-the-art solar sail to power the Team Encounter spacecraft beyond the solar system. When fully deployed (at almost 1.2 acres), the Team Encounter solar sail may be visible in the night sky with the naked eye for approximately one week, and will be the largest single structure ever deployed in space. This solar sail will propel the Team Encounter spacecraft into deep space at approximately 67,000 miles per hour (approximately four times the speed of the Space Shuttle). In development for several years, a solar sail uses an endless supply of photons from the sun to exert force on the solar sail enabling the spacecraft to be propelled forward into deep space. High acceleration, and free solar fuel make the solar sail option attractive to Team Encounter.

"NOAA's interest in solar sails lay in their ability to maintain high energy orbits with unique viewing perspectives," said Pat Mulligan, lead for space weather requirements for NOAA. "For example, some satellites currently reside in the sun-earth L1 point, the place in space where the sun and earth 's gravities balance each other. If equipped with solar sails the satellites can be placed closer to the sun providing earlier warning of solar storms which can disrupt electrical distribution grids and satellite operations."

"Another new perspective comes from solar sail satellites having the ability to orbit around the sun riding high or below the Earth, constantly looking down on polar regions," said Mulligan. "The potential uses of such "pole sitters" are still being evaluated, but it appears likely that they could relay lower orbiting satellites data in real time, and inexpensively. And the constant view of the polar regions rotating beneath could be a major advancement in the field of meteorology and climate studies."

Team Encounter has recently completed a successful sail and boom test, representing a truly significant event in the history of spaceflight. Laboratory test results demonstrate that Team Encounter has made significant progress in manufacturing the thinnest metalized solar sail material ever assembled, packaged, and deployed in ground tests. Similarly, efforts have progressed in manufacturing an inflated boom structure which is much lighter than any previously attempted.

A world renowned array of engineers, scientists and space visionaries have recently gathered for a major conference. Among those in attendance were: organizations of aerospace experts conducting third party reviews of the Team Encounter mission; representatives of the international space insurance community; government agencies interested in the mission; and world leaders in the marketing of aerospace services to the general public; Team Encounter 's international and domestic partners; and academic representatives.

The Team Encounter spacecraft is designed by AeroAstro, a premier micro-satellite technology and services company, based in Herndon, Virginia, with clients including NASA, and the Air Force. The spacecraft will propel the sail out of Earth's gravity well.

The 4,900 square meter, solar sail is being designed and built by L'Garde, Inc., a Tustin, California based company founded in 1971 specializing in inflatable space structures. L'Garde has designed and manufactured approximately 150 inflatable objects that have successfully flown in space.

Using a base material one-seventy-sixth the thickness of a human hair, the Team Encounter solar sail will be 75 m by 75 m with a mass of 18kg (including a payload consisting of messages, drawings, photographs, and DNA signatures of 3 to 5 million human participants). The Team Encounter spacecraft will unfurl the giant solar sail at about 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) from Earth.

"When successfully flown, the Team Encounter mission will demonstrate a major advance in space propulsion, establish the financial viability of entertainment-oriented space missions, and give 3-5 million people a chance to participate in a real space mission," said Charles Chafer, president of Team Encounter. "The solar sail technology provides a low cost alternative to conventional propulsion approaches, opens a new opportunity to develop missions outside of the solar system, and enables a variety of new technologies allowing the exploration of the universe."

This most unique mission has already proven itself as an academic inspiration for school children. School districts around the nation have included the Team Encounter mission in their curriculum. Team Encounter is encouraging schools worldwide to use this as an educational component to build upon.

Team Encounter is offering visitors the opportunity to participate in this historic space mission. People can obtain the necessary materials, allowing them to submit their photos, messages, and biological "signatures" (in the form of micro-hair samples), for placement on-board the spacecraft. The Team Encounter spacecraft will carry this payload, like a "cosmic message in a bottle," out of the solar system as an "archive of humanity" for whomever or whatever might discover the spacecraft in the years to come.

COntact: Christopher Pancheri -or- Susan Schonfeld
713/522-7282 or 713/927-9002 845/364-5309 or 845/364-4000

For more information on the Team Encounter mission, visit www.TeamEncounter.com, or call 1-800-ORBIT-11.

For information on NOAA's Space Environment Center, visit: www.sec.noaa.gov

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