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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Japan unfurls solar sail in space
Solar sail, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency
The rocket deployed two solar sails, or 'clover type films'
Japan has unfurled a delicate solar sail in space, a device which some scientists believe could enable travel to far away planets.

The Japanese Institute of Space Astronautical Science (ISAS) has tested two sails aboard its S-310-34 rocket.

In theory, solar sails reflect light particles from the Sun, gaining momentum in the opposite direction to propel spacecraft forward.

Some hope solar sails will one day help humans travel to the stars.

Because solar sails continue accelerating, they could reach distant targets in amazing times.

Sunlight would become too weak beyond the realms of Jupiter but one theory for interstellar travel is to direct lasers at the sails.

Sailing without wind

This is the first time a solar sail has been deployed, because finding a material light and sturdy enough to unfurl over a wide area has been difficult.

The small S-310 rocket launched from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, at 815 GMT on August 9, carrying two different types of sail with a thickness of 7.5 micrometres.

At 100 seconds after lift-off and at an altitude of 122km, the rocket deployed its first sail, known as a clover type, which consists of four segments.

At 230 seconds after lift-off and at an altitude of 169km, it deployed the second sail, known as a fan type, consisting of six segments.

Both deployments were successful and the rocket splashed into the sea at about six minutes 40 seconds after lift-off.

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12 May 00  |  Science/Nature

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