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Japan to launch solar powered spacecraft soon

April 29, 2010 19:07 IST

Japanese scientists have developed a kite-shaped 'space yacht' that uses only solar power for propulsion.

The spacecraft -- Ikaros -- would be launched into the space next month for a six-month mission during which it would head towards Venus.

In space, the spacecraft's short cylindrical pod will be separated from the rocket spinning up to 20 times a minute.

This will help it unfold its flexible 46 feet sail, which is thinner than a human hair, the Daily Mail reported.

The square shaped sail, equipped with thin-film solar cells, uses resistance created by the Sun's energy in the same way as wind propels a yacht through water thus providing the spacecraft with enough thrust to hover and rotate.

"Solar sails are the technology that realises space travel without fuel as long as we have sunlight. It is a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure. The availability of electricity would enable us to navigate farther and more effectively in the solar system," Japanese Space Agency expert Yuichi Tsuda said.

The 35 million pound Ikaros will be the first spacecraft to use such technology in deep space.

A spokesman for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said: "This will be the world's first solar powered sail craft employing both photon propulsion and thin film power generation during its interplanetary cruise."

"It's name is an acronym for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun. It also alludes to the Greek mythic hero Icarus who flew too close to the Sun and fell into the sea," the spokesman said.

The spacecraft propelled only by sunlight particles bouncing off its kite-shaped sails will blast off from Tanegashima Space Center.

If the mission is a success then Jaxa would further missions to the red giant Jupiter and Trojan using sails more than twice as the size of the Ikaros.

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