Japan Launches a Solar Sail in Outer Space
For over a hundred years, scientists andscience fiction writers have suggested using sunlight to power aspaceship.
Recently the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has taken onestep closer to realizing this vision. JAXA hassuccessfully sent a solar sail, Interplanetary Kite-craftAccelerated by Radiation of the Sun (IKAROS) into outer space.
IKAROS’ sail is made of thin, flexible plastic – with thin-film solar cells to generate electricity; solar radiation will also provideacceleration. Thus the sail has a hybrid engine, using bothion-propulsion engines and photon acceleration – to make IKAROSfuel efficient and flexible.
JAXA deployed the sail by spinning the launch vehicle at 25 rotations per minute. The momentum spread the sail out from that central hub toform a square measuring approximately 1,225 square feet. and JAXAannounced that it successfully deployed the solar sail on June 10, 2010. For the next 5 months JAXA will test the technology by sending ittoward Venus.
If JAXA’s test is successful, it could usher in a new, trulyinternational, era in space travel.
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