A Japanese spacecraft that launched this week will be using an advancedtechnology that could mark a whole new chapter in the history of solarenergy.
This week, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)launched the Akatsuki craft to study conditions on the planet Venus.This particular mission will include a solar sail, which uses particlesfrom the sun to propel the craft.
The solar sail technology hasbeen cited as one potential way that space exploration missions decadesfrom now can get around the problem of having to transport heavy fuelout of earth’s orbit. According to the JAXA website, the solar sail gets electricity from thin film cells on its membrane while also receivingacceleration from solar radiation.
This technology may still bein its development stages, but other space-related solar applicationsmay find widespread use in the coming years.
For example,researchers are also working on technology that would gather energy from orbiting solar panels and then beam it back down to earth. One company, Solaren, made news last year with a deal where Pacific Gas &Electric would start buying power generated by orbiting arrays in 2016.