Last week, Bill Nye and I attended the International Solar Sail Symposium at the New York College of Technology. It was excellent to hear about the resurgence of solar sail research and development going on world wide; but stealing the show was the IKAROS team from Japan—reporting on the first successful controlled solar sail flight.
While in New York, some of our LightSail 1 team—Chris Biddy and Matt Nehremz from Stellar Exploration, Bill Nye and I—met with IKAROS's Jun Kawaguchi, Osamu Mori and some of their Japan Space Exploration Center team to discuss technical results and issues in our two projects. Although our two spacecraft and their sails are very different, we learned many valuable lessons about the sail deployment and dynamical behavior.
IKAROS has achieved successful controlled solar sail flight. Having now carried out both the attitude control (turning the spacecraft) and the modification of its trajectory due to the force of solar pressure, IKAROS has achieved complete mission success. It has also advanced the technology of both solar sails, with its spinning spacecraft, and of space solar power generation, with the use of lightweight, flexible solar cells in the solar sail.
The next step will be that of The Planetary Society's: using the nanosat technology to develop ultra-light solar sail spacecraft of the future.