Gallery: Japan Gears Up to Launch “Ikaros” Solar Sail Spacecraft


Photo courtesy of JAXA

Solar backpacks and sun-fueled vehicles are impressive, but a solar-powered spacecraft just blows our minds.  Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch a spacecraft powered by solar sails. The craft, appropriately dubbed Ikaros (Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun), will make its journey into deep space on May 18th.

Though solar sail-powered crafts have been used before, Ikaros is the first to attempt to enter deep space. The craft’s 46-foot sails come equipped with solar cells thinner than a human hair. When solar particles hit the cells, they generate power for Ikaros. Mission controllers on the ground will steer the craft by adjusting the sails’ angles, ensuring optimal amounts of radiation are reaching the solar cells.

Ikaros’s pricetag is in the realm of $16 million dollars. And while it’s certainly an ambitious project, there are no guarantees the fuel-free space explorer will work. A rocket will transport Ikaros to space on May 18th, along with Japan’s first satellite to Venus. Stay tuned to see how Ikaros fares when the spacecraft finally gets its day in the sun.


Via Popular Science


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  1. kendrone May 3, 2010 at 6:22 am

    The solar wind is more than just photons, it is physical particles which are the same as what make up you and me. The force is small but continuous so as to allow a good acceleration into deep space.

    The problem with solar panels is they generate electricity, which currently cannot be converted into a form of kinetic energy (moving energy) without using some mass to counter balance the forces involved. The closest idea to date is to create a particle-antiparticle pair and fire them backwards out of the vessel. The electricity creates and fires the particles so as to move the ship giving roughly 50% conversion of electricity into useful kinetic energy.

    Technology will be there soon.

  2. Tugurce April 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

    While photons are massless, they do have a momentum associated with their energy. When they reflect off of a solar sail, some of this momentum is transferred to the spacecraft.

  3. Red Lectroid April 28, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    What about mass? Don’t you need mass? Energy won’t be enough will it? I would think that energy is only good for translation to velocity if you have some kind of mass transfer.

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