Originally Published Through Yahoo Voices

No Fuel, No Fuselage, No Worry – Solar Sails Are Now a Reality

IKAROS – Interplanetary Kitecraft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun – Japan has made a technological leap over the rest of the world by launching the first no-fuel spacecraft on an interplanetary voyage.IKAROS began it’s voyage on 21st May, 2010 when it launched with a Venus Orbiter package. The solar sail deployed and was confirmed for deployment on 10th June 2010. Soon afterward, instrumentation confirmed the spacecraft was under solar acceleration.

The IKAROS spacecraft is 20m across the diagonal, in the shape of a large square. It is primarily a very thin film of Polyimide plastic with embedded LCD panels and sensors in the film. There are also solar cells embedded for power, as well as dust counters on the leading face of the film. With a rest mass of 315kg, IKAROS has successfully deployed and controlled it’s sail for guidance, attitude correction and course adjustment.

The LCD thin-film arrays embedded in the sail allow for attitude control as they are used to adjust their brightness which allows the spacecraft to bank or slew as it needs to.

Over the past 6 months, Ikaros has gently cruised towards Venus as it’s larger companion Akatsuki flew onwards towards an approach and orbit of Earth’s sister world.

***Breaking News*** Akatsuki has missed Venus orbital insertion. Although the Akatsuki engines fired, there was a break in communication from the probe and for an unknown reason, the probe has failed to decelerate into a capture orbit of Venus and is now going into a solar orbit. JAXA scientists estimate the next Venus capture attempt will be in 6 years.

Now that Akatsuki has missed Venus, there is also concern that Ikaros may not be in the right approach path to use Venus for a gravity slingshot to enable it to continue it’s Solar System tour.

We now await developments as Ikaros approaches Venus for it’s approach and hopefully successful transition into a Solar Orbit to continue it’s mission.

Ikaros Channel JAXA Agency (English)
Ikaros Daily Blog JAXA Agency (Japanese)