Saturday, June 19, 2010

JAXA's Ikaros Sets Sail for Venus

"World's First Solar Sail Photographed in Deep Space " (June 18, 2010)

"A tiny space camera has snapped amazing photos of the world's first solar sail spacecraft to voyage into deep space on an interplanetary mission for Japan.

"The solar sail vehicle, named Ikaros, took the opportunity for a self-portrait by deploying a free-floating cylindrical camera just 2.4 inches (6 cm) in both width and height. In the photos, the Ikaros sail shines like a gleaming silver ship in a sea of black space...

"...Ikaros, short for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun, launched in late May and deployed its solar sail in early June to become the first space mission ever propelled only by sunlight. The mission was designed and built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)...."

Looks like days of sailing ships are coming back. Sort of.

The idea of using sunlight to sail around the Solar system is decades old: It's gratifying to see someone going ahead and making the idea a practical reality.

In addition to the solar sail that provides propulsion, Japanese engineers have solar cells mounted on Ikaros, and will be monitoring how much power they generate. It may be practical to use sunlight to power ion rocket engines on vehicles - maybe in combination with solar sails.

That would be an echo of the early 19th century, when ships like the Savannah were driven with hybrid steam/sail propulsion systems.

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