Japan's AKATSUKI mission -- the Venus Climate Orbiter -- will launch Monday, May 17 along with the IKAROS solar sail. Flying aboard both spacecraft are the names of The Planetary Society's members as well as greetings from others who signed up to send their names and messages to Venus.
AKATSUKI -- which means "dawn" -- is designed to explore the atmosphere of Venus, and its scientific instruments include cameras that will study the planet in wavelengths from ultraviolet to the mid-infrared. The mission's goal is to help answer the question of how Venus and Earth, sister worlds in size and composition, evolved into such different planets.
The second mission's name, IKAROS, stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. It is a solar sail that is designed to employ both photon propulsion and thin film solar power generation during its interplanetary cruise.
The Planetary Society, a long-time proponent of solar sail technology, plans to launch its own solar sail, Lightsail-1, early in 2011. This mission is remarkable for its funding source -- Planetary Society members around the world, including an anonymous gift of $1 million from a long-time member.
The Planetary Society and Japan's space exploration center, JSPEC/JAXA, have an agreement to collaborate and cooperate on public outreach and on technical information and results from both IKAROS and LightSail-1.
"The Planetary Society is proud to be a member of the IKAROS team," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "Each step forward in solar sailing brings humanity closer to the dream of interstellar flight with light."
LightSail is a three-part program that begins with a flight to Earth orbit, high enough to reach above the tangible atmosphere and fly with only the pressure of sunlight. LightSail-2 will attain a higher orbit and fly much longer. LightSail-3 is the most ambitious mission, heading toward the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1 to test solar sailing for an early-warning system against solar storms and to help protect technological civilization from potential disasters.
The names and messages from Planetary Society members and the public are printed in fine letters on an aluminum plate carried aboard AKATSUKI, and are on a silica mini-DVD aboard IKAROS. This archival-quality mini-DVD was provided by The Planetary Society with data writing from Plasmon OMS.
The dual mission of AKATUSKI and IKAROS is scheduled to launch Monday, May 17 at 2:45 pm PDT. Planetary Society spokesmen will be available that day for interviews with the media about our role in the mission and the propulsion method of solar sailing.