Louis D. FriedmanJul 09, 2010

JAXA confirms acceleration of IKAROS solar sail by photon pressure

The Japanese space agency reported on their web site today that acceleration of the IKAROS spacecraft by solar pressure has been confirmed.

This is a significant milestone on their flight -- probably the next-to-last step before complete controlled solar sail flight is achieved (turning the spacecraft to add or subtract velocity in a controlled manner). As we have noted many times before, just sensing of acceleration from photon pressure is not new; the acceleration by sunlight pressure on spacecraft has been known about ever since the beginning of the space age. It is, however, a new proof of engineering -- harnessing the force of light pressure force to modify a sailcraft's path in a controlled way.

The IKAROS spacecraft continues to perform well, and the world-wide kudos which the Japanese Space Exploration Center (JSpEC) is receiving -- for this mission, and for the successful return of the Hayabusa sample capsule -- are well deserved. For those of our members living near New York, the JSpEC team will give a special report at a free public event organized by The Planetary Society on Wednesday, July 21.

DCAM2's view of IKAROS
DCAM2's view of IKAROS A 32-frame animation from the deployable camera DCAM2 on IKAROS. The camera rotated as it receded, producing the apparent spin of the sail.Image: JAXA

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