Separation Camera Takes Full Images and ‘Movie’ of IKAROS Solar Sail


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.

An animation created from several pictures taken by the DCAM2 on IKAROS. The camera rotated as it was ejected from the solar sail, so it is rotating, not IKAROS. Credit: JAXA

From the JAXA press release:

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.

Close-up of the middle of the IKAROS solar sail, taken by the DCAM2. Credit: JAXA

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.

IKAROS graphic of how the sail deployed. Credit: JAXA

Hayabusa Sample Return Capsule Retrieved


Scientists from Japan were given the go-ahead to retrieve the sample return capsule from the Hayabusa spacecraft, which is hoped to contain the first piece of asteroid ever brought to Earth, perhaps providing insight into the origins of asteroids – and our universe. The capsule was ejected three hours before reaching Earth, and the sample canister descended through Earth’s atmosphere, preceding the spacecraft which broke up in spectacular fashion (click here to see the video) over the Australian Outback. The capsule lay in the Woomera Prohibited Area until morning when Aboriginal elders deemed it had not landed in any indigenous sacred sites, giving the OK for the scientists to retrieve it.

The insulated and cushioned re-entry capsule, 40 cm in diameter and 25 cm deep has a mass of about 20 kg. The capsule had a convex nose covered with a 3 cm thick ablative heat shield to protect the samples from the high velocity (~13 km/s) re-entry.

Apparently, it landed right on target. The director of the Woomera test range, Doug Gerrie, said the probe had completed a textbook landing in the South Australian desert. “They landed it exactly where they nominated they would.

Hayabusa's heat shield was also recovered from the Australian outback. Credit: JAXA

The capsule will remain sealed until it arrives at the JAXA facility near Tokyo, and may remain unopened for weeks as it undergoes testing.

The mission launched in 2003, and endured a series of technical glitches over its five-billion-kilometer (three-billion-mile) journey to the asteroid Itokawa and back. A large solar flare in late 2003 “injured” the solar panels, providing less power to Hayabusa’s ion engines, delaying the rendezvous with the asteroid. Then, as the spacecraft approached Itokawa, Hayabusa lost the use of its Y-axis reaction wheel. While it flew near the asteroid and sent back data, scientists and engineers aren’t sure if the spacecraft was successful in obtaining samples, as while it appears Hayabusa landed briefly, it is not certain the “bullets” fired to stir up dust for the container to capture. The return to Earth was delayed by three years from more thruster and navigational failures, but the JAXA team nursed and coaxed the spacecraft back home to a spectacular return. There was concern that the parachute batteries may be been depleted due to the extra time it took to get back to Earth, but obviously they worked quite well.

Sources: JAXA, NASA, AFP

Japanese Solar Sail Deploys Successfully


New images and data from the IKAROS solar sail show the thin solar film has deployed and expanded successfully and is now generating power. Since its launch on May 21, 2010, teams from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have been painstakingly checking out all the systems on IKAROS before deploying the sail, and even the process of unfurling the sail had been a slow process. JAXA began to deploy the sail on June 3, analyzing each step before proceeding. Yesterday, JAXA released a photo of a partially deployed sail (below), but didn’t offer much information as far as the status. But they now have confirmed that the sail was successfully expanded and is generating power. IKAROS is now about 7.7 million km from Earth.

In the image above, the harness is an electrical connection between the membrane and the main body, and the tether is the mechanical connection between the membrane and the main body.

And now comes the big test of the solar sail: will it provide the ability to navigate the spacecraft?

“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,” JAXA said in a press release. “Through these activities, we will ultimately aim at acquiring navigation technology through the solar sail.”

The craft will head towards Venus, and the exciting part will be finding out how fast and accurate the solar sail can fly.

Partial deploy of IKAROS, the first stage. Credit: JAXA

From the IKAROS blog (translated from Japanese):

First, the spin rate and learned that he had first IKAROS have successfully deployed from the attitude data. Then, I was part of the downlink data captured with the camera image monitor confirmed that the sail has been deployed from the image. On June 10 has been expanded to clean the sail, “stretched states” get the picture, confirmed the successful deployment of the sail after deployment finished the second check.

Also check the power of solar cells was carried out together, we achieved minimum success!

Power will be realized with the world’s first solar powered sail development.

Graphic showing the sail in full deployment. Credit: JAXA

See the IKAROS webpage for more info and detailed graphics.

Sources: JAXA, IKAROS blog

Japan Shoots for Robotic Moon Base by 2020


These ARE the droids we’ve been looking for. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has plans to build a base on the Moon by 2020. Not for humans, but for robots, and built by robots, too. A panel authorized by Japan’s prime minister has drawn up preliminary plans of how humanoid and rover robots will begin surveying the moon by 2015, and then begin construction of a base near the south pole of the moon. The robots and the base will run on solar power, with total costs about $2.2 billion USD, according to the panel chaired by Waseda University President Katsuhiko Shirai.

Moon base robot. Credit: JAXA

Some of the planned droids weigh about 300 kg (660 pounds) and move on tank-like treads. Reportedly, they will be able to operate within a 100 km (60 mile) radius of the base. They’ll be equipped with solar panels, seismographs to investigate the moon’s inner structure, high-def cameras, and arms to gather rock samples, which will be returned to Earth via a sample return rocket.

The exact location for the base will be chosen from high-resolution images returned by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter, which has provided stunning images of the Moon’s surface.

Previously, JAXA had set a goal of constructing a manned lunar base starting in about 2030, and apparently, the robotic base would be a precursor. That plan calls for astronauts to visit the Moon by around 2020 which is about the same timetable as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is hoping to have a manned mission to the Moon. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has said they would like to have a manned lunar mission in 2030. NASA? Not sure yet. The Constellation program to return to the Moon has seemingly been axed, but it’s not going down without a fight from members of Congress and others. But surely, even if NASA decides an asteroid or Mars is their destination of choice, they would have to start by practicing on the Moon.

Let’s all work together on this and perhaps returning to the Moon will actually happen.

Source: NODE via PopSci

Japan’s Venus Orbiter and Solar Sail Missions Launch Successfully

Japan’s first robotic mission to Venus and an experimental solar sail launched successfully from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The Venus Climate Orbiter, or Akatsuki, the IKAROS solar sail and several smaller payloads launched aboard an H-IIA rocket at 6:58 local time May 21 (21:58 UTC May 20). The video shows a very smooth-looking launch, and 27 minutes later, JAXA confirmed the successful separation of Akatsuki. Then, about 15 minutes after that, the solar sail canister separated.
Continue reading “Japan’s Venus Orbiter and Solar Sail Missions Launch Successfully”

Japan to Launch Venus Orbiter and Solar Sail Missions

IKAROS - solar sail from Japan. Image: JAXA

Bad weather postponed a scheduled multi-mission launch of an H-IIA rocket from Japan early Tuesday, which includes the first Japanese probe to Venus and an experimental solar sail. The next launch attempt for the “Akatsuki” Venus Climate Orbiter and the solar sail called IKAROS will be Thursday, May 20, at 21:58 UTC (May 20 at 5:58 EDT) – which is May 21 at 6:58 in Japan. Akatsuki is Japan’s first mission to Venus, and it will work closely with the ESA’s Venus Express, already at Venus. Also called Planet C, the box-shaped orbiter should arrive at Venus in December and observe the planet from an elliptical orbit, from a distance of between 300 and 80,000 kilometers (186 to 49,600 miles), looking for — among other things — signs of lightning and active volcanoes.

Another payload is the solar sail, or “space yacht” IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun). This 320kg, 1.8m-wide, disc-shaped spacecraft will deploy an ultra-thin, ultra-light, 14 meter sail that will propel the structure from the radiation pressure from sunlight hitting it.

“The purpose of IKAROS is to demonstrate the technology of the Solar Power Sail,” said Osamu Mori, project leader of IKAROS. “Simply put, the solar sail is a ‘space yacht.’ A yacht moves forward on water, pushed by wind captured in its sails. A solar sail is propelled by sunlight instead of wind, so it’s a dream spaceship – it doesn’t require an engine or fuel. Part of IKAROS’s sail is covered by a solar cell made of an ultra-thin film, which generates electricity from sunlight.”

So far, solar sails have only been tested, but never flown successfully. It is hoped IKAROS will be the world’s first solar-powered sail, and that the structure will sail towards Venus, following Akatsuki.

The experimental sail is thinner than a human hair, is also equipped with thin-film solar cells to generate electricity, creating what JAXA calls “a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure.”

To control the path of IKAROS, engineers will change the angle at which sunlight particles bounce off the sail.

Akatsuki and IKAROS on the launch pad Taken on May 17, 2010, about 24 hours before the planned launch of Akatsuki and IKAROS toward Venus. They are stacked aboard an H-IIA rocket. Credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

If you are a member of The Planetary Society, your name will be heading to Venus on both Akatsuki and IKAROS. The Planetary Society, a long-time proponent of solar sail technology, and Japan’s space exploration center, JSPEC/JAXA, have an agreement to collaborate and cooperate on public outreach and on technical information and results from IKAROS, which will help TPS plan for its upcoming launch of its own solar sail vehicle, LightSail-1, which they hope to launch in early 2011.

Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Blog has more details about the two missions and TPS’s involvement.

The H-IIA will also carry four other small satellites, developed by Japanese universities and other institutions. They include:

The 2-pound Negai CubeSat, developed by Soka University of Japan. Negai will test an information processing system during a three-week mission.

The WASEDA-SAT2, developed by Waseda University. The 2.6-pound spacecraft will conduct technology experiments in orbit.

The 3.3-pound KSAT spacecraft developed by Kagoshima University will conduct Earth observation experiments.

The 46-pound UNITEC-1 satellite from the Japanese University Space Engineering Consortium will test computer technologies and broadcast radio waves from deep space for decoding by amateur radio operators.

The rocket will launch from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

For more information on IKAROS, read this interview with the project leader, Osamu Mori

Hard-Luck Hayabusa In More Trouble

Artist concept of the Hayabusa spacecraft, which visited asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and returned samples to Earth in 2010. Credit: JAXA

A problem-plagued Japanese mission to an asteroid just may have received its final blow. The Haybusa mission, which went to asteroid Itokawa in 2005 is currently trying to return to Earth, but now has suffered a breakdown in the third out of four ion thrusters. The cause was a voltage spike due to problems with a neutralization vessel, which previously caused the failure of two other thrusters. The fourth and only remaining thruster was shutdown earlier by engineers after signs that it also might succumb to high voltage damage. Engineers are now testing that engine, Thruster C, to determine if it is capable of long-duration firings. Hayabusa, which landed on Itokawa (possibly several times – mission managers aren’t sure) might contain samples, but due to a malfunction of the sample collection device, JAXA has acknowledged that it cannot be sure Hayabusa actually managed to take samples from the surface of the asteroid.

Thruster D failed last Wednesday, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Hayabusa’s four experimental microwave discharge ion engines consume xenon gas and expel the ionized propellant at high speeds to produce thrust. Ion engines are more efficient than conventional chemical thrusters because they use less fuel and can operate continuously for thousands of hours. Hayabusa’s thrusters have accumulated almost 40,000 hours of burn time since the probe launched in May 2003.

The spacecraft was originally scheduled to return to Earth in 2007, but the arrival date was pushed back to 2010 following thruster, communications, gyro and fuel-leak problems.

Thruster D had been the lone engine guiding the spacecraft since February 2009. Officials now say they are evaluating the asteroid mission’s return course after last week’s glitch, and will try to re-fire Thruster C in order to obtain the trajectory and speed required for the return to Earth.

Hayabusa spent three months exploring Itokawa in late 2005, taking over 1,600 pictures and collecting near-infrared and X-ray spectral data to investigate the small potato-shaped asteroid’s surface composition.

During a failed sampling attempt in November 2005, Hayabusa made an unplanned landing and spent up to a half-hour on Itokawa, becoming the first spacecraft to take off from an asteroid. The spacecraft attempted to fire a pellet into the asteroid’s surface and retrieve rock samples through a funnel leading to a collection chamber. However, telemetry showed Hayabusa likely did not fire its projectile while on the surface; but scientists were hopeful bits of dust or pebbles found their way through the funnel and into the sample retrieval system.

Source: Spaceflightnow