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Japan's 'space yacht' starts sailing


Harness: electric connection between the membrane and the main body.Tether: mechanical connection between the membrane and the main body. JAXA photo

TOKYO (AFP): Japan has said its kite-shaped "space yacht", designed to float through space using only the power of the sun, successfully started sailing with solar power generation.

A Japanese rocket last month launched the experimental "Ikaros" -- Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun -- designed to be propelled by the pressure of sunlight particles.

The technology could eventually enable space travel without fuel, as long as there is sunlight.

Similar to an ocean yacht pushed by wind, the device has a square, ultra-thin and flexible sail measuring 14 metres by 14 metres (46 by 46 feet) that will be driven through space as it is pelted by solar particles.

The sail, which was fully expanded Thursday, is only a fraction of the thickness of a human hair and is partly coated with thin-film solar cells to generate electricity.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) "confirmed the full expansion of the sail and electric generation with thin film solar cells at about 7.7 million kilometres from Earth," it said in a statement Friday.

JAXA will continue monitoring and studying "navigation technology using the solar sail", it said.

The name alludes to Icarus, the figure from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun. The space yacht, however, is headed in the direction of Venus.

Tags:

Japan   rocket   space   Ikaros  

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