World's First Solar Sail Photographed in Deep Space
A tiny cylindrical space camera detached itself from Japan's new solar sail and snapped some photos of the mission bound for Venus and beyond in June 2010. Full Story.
Credit: JAXA

A tiny space camera has snapped amazing photos of the world's first solar sail spacecraft to voyage into deep space on an interplanetary mission for Japan.

The solar sail vehicle, named Ikaros, took the opportunity for a self-portrait by deploying a free-floating cylindrical camera just 2.4 inches (6 cm) in both width and height. In the photos, the Ikaros sail shines like a gleaming silver ship in a sea of black space.

The spring-launched camera snapped the new photos of the solar sail as the mission departs for Venus and beyond.

Ikaros, short for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun, launched in late May and deployed its solar sail in early June to become the first space mission ever propelled only by sunlight. The mission was designed and built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

JAXA engineers will monitor the power generated by thin film solar cells embedded within the kite-like sail, in hopes that future missions could combine solar sailing with electricity to power ion propulsion engines.

Like the tale of Icarus, which tells the story of a boy who flew too close to the sun, the Ikaros solar sail is also expected to explore our nearest star. It is headed to the other side of the sun after a detour to Venus, JAXA officials said.

"Through these activities, we will ultimately aim at acquiring navigation technology through the solar sail," JAXA officials said in a statement last Friday.

The solar sail mission piggybacked aboard the main launch of Japan's Venus climate orbiter, called Akatsuki ("Dawn" in Japanese).

Both spacecraft launched alongside four small satellites on May 20 (early morning local Japan time on May 21) from the Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima island in Japan.