Japan to send solar-propelled 'sail craft' into outer space

JAXA will soon launch its Ikaros vessel into deep space, testing the fuel-free possibilities of space travel.

If I were to create a solar-fueled spacecraft, I wouldn't name it after Icarus, the ancient mythological Greek who plummeted to his death after flying too close to the sun.

But I don't work for JAXA, Japan's space agency, and they didn't make their "space yacht" Ikaros out of wax and feathers—what comprised Icarus' homemade wings.

Instead, the vessel's solar sail, made from polyimide resin, is equipped with ultra-thin film solar cells, an altitude control device and observation sensors.

On Tuesday, JAXA's space system expert Yuichi Tsuda told journalists:

Solar sails are the technology that realizes 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' 46-foot square sail is only 0.0075 millimeters wide in some places. Tsuda explains that the sun's radiation will propel Ikaros via the pressure placed on the sail as well as provide the vessel with electricity. JAXA intends to steer the craft by angling the way solar particles hit the sail. Ikaros stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun.

On May 18th, the $16-million vessel will ascend into space from the Tanegashima Space Center.

On the same rocket taking Ikaros to outer space will be Akatsuki, another craft with a mission for Venus. JAXA's plans over the next decades are ambitious and include building the first space station on the moon equipped with wheeled robots.

Images: JAXA
: PhysOrg

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com