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Japanese "space yacht" IKAROS proves photon acceleration works

RIA Novosti

04:15 10/07/2010

MOSCOW, July 10 (RIA Novosti) - Japan's space agency JAXA confirmed on Saturday that its experimental spacecraft IKAROS started to accelerate after unfurling its kite-like solar sail, proving that the new fuel-saving propulsion technique is no science fiction.

On May 21, Japan launched IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun), dubbed a "space yacht" for its 200-square-meter sail made of 0.0075 mm-thin polyimide resin, which uses solar radiation to get propulsion. It finished deploying the sail a month ago.

"The small solar power sail demonstrator "IKAROS," which successfully deployed its solar sail, was confirmed to accelerate by solar sail receiving solar pressure," JAXA said on its website.

"This proved that the IKAROS has generated the biggest acceleration through photon during interplanetary flight in history," the space agency added.

The spacecraft is now located 11 million miles from Earth and is heading towards Venus. Upon reaching the planet's orbit it will continue a three-year journey to reach the other side of the Sun.

The far-reaching goal of the project is to build a fuel-effective "hybrid" engine, combining photon acceleration and ion propulsion.

JAXA aims to launch its second mission of a photon-accelerated spacecraft in the late 2010s. It will combine a medium-sized solar sail with a diameter of 50 meters, along with integrated ion-propulsion engines. The destinations of the spacecraft will be Jupiter and the Trojan asteroids.

U.S. and European countries are also developing their own solar sail projects.

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