WASHINGTON — Japan's space agency confirmed on Friday (June 11) that a solar sail on its Ikaros planetary probe has been successfully deployed.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the solar sail, a component of the probe's Small Solar Power Sail Demonstrator, is generating power through its thin-film solar cells. Ikaros was launched from Tanegashima Space Center on May 21 and is currently about 5 million miles from Earth.
|Ikaros solar sail deployment as seen from a satellite camera (Source: JAXA)
The solar sail will eventually provide propulsion for the probe using photons captured by the sail to accelerate Ikaros. The sail measures 14 meters on a side and 20 meters across.
The space agency said in a statement that it is preparing to "accelerate the satellite by photon pressure, and verify the orbit control through that acceleration. Through these activities, we will ultimately aim at acquiring navigation technology through the solar sail."
The destination for Ikaros is Venus. If the 7.5-micron-thick sail operates as planned, it will propel the satellite into orbit around the second planet from the Sun in about six months, the agency said.
The solar sail is powered by 25-micron-thick amorphous silicon cells.
Ikaros marks the first attempt to propel a space probe using photons. Solar sails act as giant mirrors that reflect sunlight back in the direction it came from. The reflection generates momentum that can be used to propel satellites.