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Japan Tests Solar Sail
Jamais Cascio, 12 Aug 04

Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science has successfully completed the first in-space deployment of an experimental solar sail. A solar sail uses the pressure of photons streaming from the sun to slowly accelerate, allowing for travel within the solar system without the need to carry on-board fuel. Although the acceleration is gradual, it's also relentless; a fully functional solar sail should be able to achieve speeds far greater than any current rocket system.

The experimental deployment did not test the ability of the sail material to catch sunlight for propulsion, only the ability to unfurl a large, thin, sheet in orbit. (None of the articles I found on this, including the project's English-language homepage at ISAS, indicated the area of the sails, only the thickness (0.0075 mm). If anyone finds a reference to the square meter area of the sails, drop me a note and I'll update this post.)

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Well, spacetoday gives one dimension, but I suppose you could use that to figure out the area from the pictures: "During the suborbital flight the payload successfully deployed two different prototype solar sails, each about 10 meters across. One sail was clover-shaped with four petals, while the other was fan-shaped."

Spacetoday appears to be quoting Nature's "space age origami" article:

Posted by: Mark Eichin on 12 Aug 04



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