Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sailing to Venus

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, is sending a solar sail spacecraft to Venus.

Rather than using struts to keep the sail taut, IKAROS (a great acronym, by the way... up there with C.O.L.B.E.R.T.) uses centripetal force to unfurl and keep the sail open. What a wonderful solution.

Solar sails use the force of photons emitted from the sun to propel a spacecraft and, since there is no friction and a continuous stream of particles, it can just accelerate and accelerate and accelerate. And the sail itself is exquisitely thin.

I'm loving JAXA right now.

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