Solar Sails Unfurled Over Japan

Two different solar sail designes were unfurled from a small rocket launched from Kagoshima, Japan on August 9th.


(From ISAS Deployed Solar Sail Film In Space)

Solar sails were first suggested in the 1920's by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Fridrich Tsander; science fiction writer Jack Vance wrote a great space-faring story called Sail 25 about solar sail technology. The basic idea is to make use of light pressure from the sun exerted on a very large area of "sail." The trick is to use a very thin sail - and to figure out how to deploy something that is of necessity very fragile.

The rocket carried two experiments; the first a clover-type deployment (seen above); the second used a fan-style design. Both deployments were successful, at 122 kilometers and 169 kilometers of altitude, repectively.

NASA has been experimenting with solar sail systems in vacuum (in the lab); see NASA Solar Sail Propulsion Team. The Russians also plan to launch a solar sail spacecraft in November of this year.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/19/2004)

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