JAXA will soon launch its Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated byRadiation of the Sun (IKAROS) satellite along with the Venus ClimateOrbiter AKATSUKI. The IKAROS satellite will be the first fuel-free, solar-powered sailcraft to enter deep space “employing both photon propulsion and thinfilm solar power generation” during its flight.
According to the JAXA SpaceExploration Center’s website, when the sun’s light reflects off thesolar sail’s surface, the energy and momentum of light particles, orphotons, are then transferred to the solar sail which gives the sail apush, accelerating it through space. Although slight, the accelerationis constant and can reach high speeds in very little time.
The sail will be deployed in space by the centrifugal force producedby the rotation of the satellite. The square membrane, with a diagonaldistance of 66 feet, is constructed out of polyimide resin just 0.0075mm thick. Solar sail spacecrafts save money by eliminating the need forexpensive fuel, and can move faster than traditional chemical rockets.
IKAROS is set to launch on May 18th, 2010 from the TanegashimaSpace Center using the H-IIA launch vehicle. After separating from the H-IIA, IKAROS will spin up to 20 rpm, “deploying the membrane and generating solar power.”
A second mission using a medium-sized solar-powered sail withintegrated ion-propulsion engines destined for Jupiter and the Trojanasteroids will be launched later in the decade.
Thousands of people participated in the free “Sail Away! Messagesfrom Earth” campaign, a joint effort between JAXA and The PlanetarySociety (TPS). People from all over the world were encouraged to addtheir name or personal message which will be placed on a DVD or aluminum plate and mounted on the spacecraft.
While the deadline for adding personal messages on the IKAROS mission has passed, you can still add your name to the upcoming LightSailspacecraft mission by visiting the TPS website.