The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s IKAROS space yacht which launched last month has successfully unfurled its solar sail. The accomplishment marks the first time a solar sail has been successfully deployed in space.
The IKAROS (short for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) small solar sail demonstrator began to deploy its sail using centrifugal force on June 3 and on June 10, about 7.7 million km (4.8 million miles) from Earth, JAXA confirmed the proper extension of the sail, which measures 14 meters (46 ft) along each side. JAXA also confirmed power generation by the thin film solar cells attached to the sail.
The next step will be to verify acceleration by the cells and orbit control of the craft by using photon pressure from sunlight as it continues on its journey that will take it past Venus, before it navigates back around the Sun.