Solar Sail-Powered Satellite to be launched in Japan
Icarus of Greek mythology used wax wings to travel to the sun. His adventure ended badly when the sun melted his wings and he plummeted to Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd have different expectations for their solar sail-powered Ikaros satellite, the first of its kind.
Using thin-film solar technology, JAXA will wrap the Ikaros satellite in flexible solar panels that will open once the satellite leaves Earth’s atmosphere. The 66 foot (20 meter) sail is a mere 32.5 micrometers thick, about half the thickness of human hair. Once unfurled, the solar panel sail moves the satellite through space using resistance created by solar energy.
Hiroaki Benten, a polymer chemist at Kyoto University in Japan, believes thin-film solar technology has enormous potential not only for solar sails, but also as a material for flexible solar batteries that could be cut into a number of sizes or shapes and be carried around like a folded sheet of paper or a notepad.
Ikaros is scheduled to be launched May 18 from Tanegashima Space Center in Southwestern Japan.