Japanese deploy solar sail

Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Captain Seafort » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:39 pm

Japanese scientists are celebrating the successful deployment of their solar sail, Ikaros.

The 200-sq-m (2,100-sq-ft) membrane is attached to a small disc-shaped spacecraft that was put in orbit last month by an H-IIA rocket.

Ikaros will demonstrate the principle of using sunlight as a simple and efficient means of propulsion.

The technique has long been touted as a way of moving spacecraft around the Solar System using no chemical fuels.

The mission team will be watching to see if Ikaros produces a measurable acceleration, and how well its systems are able to steer the craft through space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said in a statement that its scientists and engineers had begun to deploy the solar sail on 3 June (JST).

On 10 June, Jaxa said, confirmation was received that the sail had expanded successfully. Some thin-film solar cells embedded in the membrane were even generating power, it added.

Space applications

The principle of solar sailing is a simple one. Photons, or particles of light, falling on a highly reflective, ultra-thin (in this case, just 7.5 microns) surface will exert a pressure.

The force is tiny but continuous, and over time should produce a considerable velocity.

Solar sails will never replace conventional propulsion systems like chemical thrusters, but they do have the potential to play a much greater role in certain types of space mission.

Louis Friedman, from the space advocacy group The Planetary Society, is a big supporter of the technology. The society's LightSail-1, a much smaller mission than Ikaros, could launch by the year's end. He told BBC News recently: "The potential that we all seek is the ultra-lightweight, very fast spacecraft that doesn't use fuel.

"That's the future of interstellar travel; that's the long-term goal. The intermediate goals are to be able to use this technology to 'hover' in interplanetary space at particular points for monitoring, say, the Sun or monitoring the Earth's geomagnetic poles or magneto-tail; and then also to fly between the planets without using fuel."

Already some satellites in geostationary orbit above the Earth use flaps on the ends of their solar panels to catch the pressure of sunlight to maintain their correct attitude.

This leads to a considerable saving on the fuel that would otherwise have to be sent surging through the satellites' thrusters, and operators have found this strategy can extend the longevity of some missions by many months.

Venus 'piggy-back'

Deploying a large membrane in space is a challenging task, however.

The circular Ikaros was launched with the sail wrapped around it. The plan was to unbutton the four weighted corners of the membrane and allow them to fly outwards as the central module turned. This was expected to pull the sail taut. A camera mounted on the central hub of Ikaros confirmed the sail had indeed been drawn flat.

Japanese scientists must now hope they can control this huge spinning film. If instabilities develop in the sail, it could start to bend and fold, ruining the experiment.

Ikaros was a piggy-back payload to Japan's Venus orbiter, Akatsuki.

The pair were boosted in to space on 21 May (JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Akatsuki will arrive at Venus in December. Key goals include finding definitive evidence for lightning and for active volcanoes.


Beeb

Very cool. I wonder how long it'll be before we get something like this:

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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Mikey » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:52 pm

It is very cool, but hopefully we won't be using crew capsules made of wood. :P
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Monroe » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:57 pm

That is cool. I wish NASA could get money to compete. *raisesfist*
How many Minbari does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby kostmayer » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:25 pm

Mikey wrote:It is very cool, but hopefully we won't be using crew capsules made of wood. :P


Capsule? I want me a wooden solar-sailing ship. Britannia could rule the solar waves.
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Mikey » Fri Jun 11, 2010 11:52 pm

Sorry, I didn't have a pic of one with a Union jack atop:

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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Monroe » Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:20 pm

Now scientists need to create the mighty Foom canons!
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Deepcrush » Sun Jun 13, 2010 10:45 pm

Monroe wrote:Now scientists need to create the mighty Foom canons!


The what? :?
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Lighthawk » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:16 pm

I think he's refering to the sound effects depicted in the picture.
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Deepcrush » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:17 pm

DOOH! :bangwall:
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Sonic Glitch » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:00 am

Deepcrush wrote:DOOH! :bangwall:

No, no, "FOOM!"
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Deepcrush » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:48 am

:suicide:
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Tyyr » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:11 am

What the hell is that from?

In other news I hope that probe is tiny because in solar sail terms 200 meters square ain't much.
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Mikey » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:13 am

The space barq is from some SW comic book. *EDIT* Sorry, it's not a barque... it's rigged more like a brig without a gaff.
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Tyyr » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:44 am

...Star Wars? WTF?
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Re: Japanese deploy solar sail

Postby Mikey » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:22 am

Tyyr wrote:...Star Wars? WTF?



yup.
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