Thursday, May 13, 2010

When Ikaros encounters Amaterasu

Ikaros, Space Sailing Yacht to the Sun. Ikaros, propelled by harnessing photons from the sun, with a diagonal spread of 20 meters and controlled via electromagnetic mirror-like devices that capture solar radiation

Ikaros, half sailing vessel, half spacecraft, it is the name of this fabulous craft millions of children from China to Peru would dream of! Ikaros is scheduled for launch from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan on Tuesday 18th May. I.k.a.r.o.s. stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun. It is a 1.5 billion yen jewel spacecraft and it is the first to attempt solar sailing outside of Earth’s orbit.

Ikaros is guided by changing the sail angle to the solar wind, similar to a sailing yacht does when it captures wind on the Earth’s oceans. Unlike its famous namesake, Icarus, the Greek who flew too close to the sun and fell from the heavens, "Ikaros the satellite will hopefully have a successful mission." Jaxa said.

Solar sailing spacecraft, if proven to be successful, are the ultimate in sustainability and economy since, after getting into orbit on the rocket, they use absolutely no fuel, unlike conventional spacecraft and rockets. Solar sailing spacecraft can travel at increasing velocity as they absorb the kinetic energy of the solar wind, without having to carry lots of fuel and rocket engines into orbit, allowing for more payload instruments to be carried. The downside is it may take a little longer to get where you want to go.

The spacecraft gets thrust from capturing the solar wind (a charged particle stream from the Sun), and electrical power from solar cells mounted on the sails.

Ikaros is launched as a small cylindrical spacecraft that spins up to 20 revolutions per minutes before deploying its solar sails which are 20m diagonally from tip to tip. The polyimide solar sail membrane is only 7.5 micron thick, about four times thinner than an average human hair. The silicon solar cells are 25 micron thick.

Besides, in Japan, since 2009 Ikaros also (or should I write of course!) is an anime - manga character by Suu Minazuki in the Sora no otoshimono' story, a "Pet Class Angeloid, Type Alpha", a submissive, melancholic angel falling from the sky...

Ikaros even has its page on Facebook!

✍✍✍ Amaterasu is a sun goddess and one of the principal religious Shinto deities.

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