Wednesday, June 09, 2010

First-Ever Solar Sail Deployed

Wired has an article on the recent developments of the Japanese IKAROS spacecraft. The diminutive craft is the test bed for a feasibility study on "Solar Sails". The picture from JAXA shows the sail as it begins to deploy. Controllers are being cautious in stating that it will be a few weeks before they know anything at all of the sail's performance because of the variable in the system. First the structure is fantastically lightweight, being only as thick as a red blood cell and over 600 square feet in size makes it incredibly susceptible to damage. Even a slight breeze would tear the sail to shreds. Since there are no "breezes" in space, that is not a concern. What can damage the sail according to those in the know said “The things we’re watching for are all their dynamical behaviors that you ultimately can’t model and that might cause undue stress on the material,”

The sail will use the minuscule force imparted by a photon, which isn't much but adds up in time. It is hoped that this type of propulsion will be used on long duration mission.

Wired article here

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