Japan to launch 'space yacht' propelled by solar particles (Update)

April 27, 2010
A handout graphic designed image released from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows what the Japanese satellite Ikaros might look like in space. Japan is to launch a "space yacht" propelled by solar particles that bounce off its kite-shaped sails.

Japan is to launch a "space yacht" propelled by solar particles that bounce off its kite-shaped sails, the country's space agency said Tuesday.

A rocket carrying the Ikaros -- an acronym for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun -- will blast off from the Tanegashima space centre in southern Japan on May 18.

"Ikaros is a 'space yacht' that gets propulsion from the pressure of sunlight particles bouncing off its sail," Yuichi Tsuda, space systems expert at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), told journalists.

The flexible sails, which are thinner than a human hair, are also equipped with thin-film solar cells to generate electricity to create "a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure", Tsuda said.

"Solar sails are the technology that realises space travel without fuel as long as we have sunlight. The availability of electricity would enable us to navigate farther and more effectively in the solar system."

Ikaros, which has cost 1.5 billion yen (16 million dollars) to develop, will be the first use of the technology in deep space, as past experiments have been limited to unfolding its sails in orbits around the Earth, said Tsuda.

JAXA plans to control the path of Ikaros by changing the angle at which sunlight particles bounce off the silver-coloured sail.

Ikaros will be a short cylindrical shape when it is released into space and will then extend its 14-metre (46 foot) sail, JAXA said.

The name of the spacecraft alludes to Icarus, the figure from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea, but Tsuda promised that "this Ikaros will not fly into the sun".

The same rocket will also launch Japan's first satellite bound for Venus, called the Akatsuki, or PLANET-C, which will work closely with Venus Express, a satellite sent earlier by the European Space Agency.

In coming years, JAXA may launch other bold projects.

An expert panel to the government has proposed Japan send a wheeled robot to the moon in five years and build the world's first lunar base by 2020, a Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy official said Tuesday.

Under the plan, the robot's tasks would include setting up an observation device, gathering geological samples and sending data back to Earth. The robot would also set up solar panels to generate energy, the official said.

The expert panel initially considered sending a two-legged humanoid but judged a "rover-type" robot more practical. "It is still difficult for a biped robot to walk on a bumpy surface, even on Earth," the official said.

The team also envisions building the world's first station on the moon by about 2020, which would be staffed by advanced wheeled robots, he said.

The group estimates the unmanned mission would cost Japan 200 billion yen (two billion dollars) over the next 10 years.

The 20-member team -- made up of experts from JAXA as well as business and academia -- advises Transport Minister Seiji Maehara.

It plans to submit a report to Maehara, the minister in charge of space exploration, by late June, which would be discussed at the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy, chaired by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

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1.1 / 5 (8) Apr 27, 2010
Eh space is old news.
4.7 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2010
Hmm, seems like Japan might turn space into their backyard faster then us in the USA.

Space will give us greater Energy source(unhindered by clouds and weather. Tap resources outside of our planet. New route of tourism. Increase technology in recycle and reuse, etc. Sounds like good incentives to me :)

But i suppose the hold back is our shoddy education system, politicians that seem to drop their pants and bend for political points.

May be we need to convince the porn industry that space is great. Then we might have progress :P Just like how the porn industry is behind the scenes in tech pushing. Space lust, lol
1 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2010
I doubt the education system is the source of the decline of the US space program (compared to the space race).
Perhaps the lack of interest in space, or science in general is a factor. I'm pretty sure politics, economics and bureaucracy are also pretty major hurdles of the US space program.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure there's a market for zero gravity porn, it might be expensive to produce though.
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2010
"Magpies are opportunistic scavengers and will eat anything once they have discovered it is edible. They are known to attack the nests of other birds and eat their fledglings."
Good choice for a name. Ignorant, short attention span, self absorbed a** would be more fitting. Inconceivably bizarre, pointless comment, even for a magpie.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
Who hasn't seen those little vacuum bulbs with the four square vanes connected to a central post on a pivot? Each little square piece of metal has a black side and a metallic reflecting side. When placed in the sun, the light actually seems to "push" against the black side, spinning the vanes. They will always spin in the same direction. So why are the solar sails in the artist's depiction not black? Also, and this is for you physics neophytes, what causes the vanes to spin in the little vacuum bulbs when they are exposed to sunlight?
5 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2010
Here you can check in which way the vanes in a Crook's radiometer turn (Short answer: it depends on how good your vacuum is)

And BTW: The 'radiometer' does not turn because of light pressure.

In the vacuum of space reflective surfaces are best. Black surfaces absorb the impulse of a photon. Silvered surfaces reflect the photon (doubling the amount of impulse transferred)
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
good answer antialias! Most people assume it is radiation pressure that turns the radiometer, but a basic knowledge of conservation of momentum shows that they should turn in the opposite direction than they actually do. The impulse is provided apparently by the residual atmosphere in the bulb, and more heating of the black side, creating some kind of heat transfer system. It's not in any way simple.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
Also, I was thinking. What is the relative velocity of our solar system compared to other solar systems? Even if we could get to other solar systems, wouldn't our relative speed mean that we'd just zip right past it? Could a spacecraft that relied on traditional propulsion ever have enough delta V to be captured by a distant solar system that might be moving at a relative speed of millions of miles per hour?
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
anyone knows the destination or trajectory of the craft?
Apr 27, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Apr 28, 2010
More info on IKAROS from the JAXA website:
not rated yet Apr 29, 2010
Could a spacecraft that relied on traditional propulsion ever have enough delta V to be captured by a distant solar system that might be moving at a relative speed of millions of miles per hour?

Prpoulsion systems can be used to brake a craft. Just turn it 180° and fire away. As long as the relative speed between two destinations is not greater than the speed of light (which only holds for VERY far away - and to us invisible - galaxies which do this because of the expansion of space) you will always be able to match velocities.

...given you have brought enough fuel, that is.

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