Two small “separation cameras” were ejected from JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) IKAROS solar sail, which successfully took some amazing full images of the fully deployed sail. The cameras are quite small, cylindrical in shape about 6 cm in diameter and height. They were ejected from the sail using a spring, and then they looked back at IKAROS, and relayed the images wirelessly. The cameras are now floating off into space, having done their job of taking these images. Below, an animation, or movie made by combining several images.
We will measure and observe the power generation status of the thin film solar cells, accelerate the satellite by photon pressure, and verify the orbit control through that acceleration. Through these activities, we will ultimately aim at acquiring navigation technology through the solar sail.
So, now that we know the sail is fully deployed, next comes the big test of whether solar sailing will actually work. This is huge, to finally have the opportunity to test a solar sail in space.
From the IKAROS blog, speaking as the cameras:
Unfortunately I only have the battery, and…working time is very short for about 15 minutes after I do my best work is a planets around the Sun, the world’s smallest man-made flying with IKAROS continue.
Translation: these tiny cameras only had about 15 minutes to do their job of taking pictures before becoming dead little satellites orbiting around the sun.
IKAROS was launched on May 21, 2010 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.
We’ll keep you posted as JAXA begins testing the solar sail.