The Sail is Opened with Centrifugal Force
Consecutive photographs – CG images of IKAROS opening its sail in outer space. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
The IKAROS mission is to test whether a virtually powerless space yacht can continuously navigate through outer space in a stable manner.
Launched from Tanegashima in Japan, the first stage of the operation released IKAROS from a rocket while it was rotating. The sail was wrapped around the body of the experimental craft, with a weight attached to each of its four corners. The experiment managed to successfully deploy the sail by using the dynamic rotation of these four weights. When it comes to yachts, you would normally raise the mast to tension the sail, but if they had done this with the space craft, it would have become too heavy. So, JAXA incorporated a new mechanism into IKAROS that used the centrifugal force generated during the rotation to naturally deploy the sail that was wound around the body section of the craft and keep it open.
Solar Cell Experiment a Success Too
CG image of the camera used to take shots of IKAROS extending its sail, as the camera splits off from the main body in outer space. This camera was also accredited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's smallest "inter-planetary sub-satellite." (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
IKAROS has the ability to speed up or slow down by simply adjusting the direction of the sail powered by the sunlight. Around the edge of the sail liquid crystal panels are fitted like a mirror with fogged glass and by adjusting the balance of the reflectance of the light captured by the sail, it can control speed and direction of travel. One of the major achievements of this experiment has been the creation of the power needed to operate the liquid crystal by means of the "power sail" technology which generates power from the solar cells stretched across the sail.
JAXA is hoping that the technology used in IKAROS will lead to the development of probes that can reach the distant universe, such as explorations to Jupiter. The Agency is studying possibilities such as increasing the size of the sail many times over to enable the solar cells to produce power even when a craft is far from the sun, as well as combining solar sail and high performance ion engine to allow the realization of long-term energy saving voyages.
An image of the test craft IKAROS with its sail spread open in outer space, taken by camera. IKAROS was accredited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s first space yacht propelled by the pressure of sunlight. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
Helping mankind realize its dreams, even now IKAROS is continuing to send valuable data back to earth as it navigates its way through the vastness of space.