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Japan Successfully Deploys First Solar Sail In Space 284

Posted by timothy
from the beginner's-luck dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This morning the Japanese space agency, JAXA, successfully unfurled a solar sail in space for the first time. Solar sails offer the best hope for deep space exploration because they eliminate the need to carry fuel. The Japanese spacecraft IKAROS created centripetal force by spinning, allowing it to launch the 0.0003-inch-thick sail. While deployment is a challenge in a zero-gravity environment, spacecraft — unlike airplanes — don't have to contend with drag, so with each photon that hits the sail helps the spacecraft gather speed."
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Japan Successfully Deploys First Solar Sail In Space

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  • Focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:28PM (#32529284)
    Did anyone else have the thought that, here are the Japanese, designing and building spacecraft to further explore our Universe and progress mankind's knowledge.

    Here are we, the US, once the leaders of space exploration, have spent billions of dollars to go back and relive some glory (Moon shot) and canceled that, we have canceled the Shuttle program with no other vehicle to replace it, and in the process put a halt to much basic research.

    We're kind of like that pathetic ex High School jock that's trying to relive his glory days.

  • Which force? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:31PM (#32529312)

    Centripetal or Centrifugal?

    Spinning creates what is commonly called Centrifugal force, and the tethers of the sails constitute what is generally referred to as the Centripetal force.

    About here is where some physicist jumps up and tells me everything I learned in the past is wrong and I should shut up and sit down.....

  • Commence Whining (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RobinEggs (1453925) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:33PM (#32529338)
    Commence whining about the death of the US Space program, the US falling behind other nations, and how it's all the (Pick one: Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush Sr.) administration's fault in 3.....2......1....blastoff.

    Don't get me wrong, it's all basically true; it's just tiresome whining to listen to.
  • pro skills (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:35PM (#32529380)

    from now on if anyone asks me who's leading space development, I'm no longer going to say 'well no one really, I guess russia has the best plans going on' to 'fuck yeah JAXA all the way'

  • by hadesan (664029) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:42PM (#32529460)
    One question, how does it stop with no fuel (aka an ability to brake?)

    Also, how well does the membrane hold up to minuscule debris? Is it durable for extended voyages (outer solar system, extra solar)?

    What is the maximum velocity it could reach with the available solar wind prior to it ending at the heliosheath?

    If they could combine it with something to scoop up stellar gas, along with something to process the gas into energy for steering and braking, you would have something useful.

    And please no Uranus comments for my subject line...

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:54PM (#32529594)

    I mean they most certainly didn't recently deploy two rovers to Mars that WILDLY exceeded expectations. They didn't then also deploy another, fixed, lander which while not as wildly successful exceeded it's planned mission significantly. Nope, none of that happened...

    Oh wait, yes it did.

    Please, while the US space program is not without troubles, it isn't as though it is at a standstill. NASA continues to do some amazing work, and much of it like the landers are pure science, to further our knowledge.

    Stop with the US hate that is so popular on Slashdot. The US is not perfect, no nations is, indeed no human endeavor is. There's plenty to criticize and that includes in the space program. However trying to pretend as though they accomplish nothing of note is silly. Two successful recent Mars missions shows that. No, they weren't manned, neither is this Japanese craft. Putting people in space is dangerous and often not worth the expense. We can learn a lot with remote operated equipment.

  • 0.0003-inches ?! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:57PM (#32529616)

    Are you serious? I've lived in Omaha, NE nearly my entire life, and I have no IDEA how thin that actually is. USE METRIC PLZKTHX.

    I don't know if they think it's patriotic or what, but AS sucks, and this is the *world wide* web.

  • Re:Focus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:57PM (#32529622)
    I can count the number of non-scientists excited about those projects on 1 hand. Does that count? If NASA continues only to accept projects that do not interest the general public they are going to completely lose funding within a few decades.
  • Re:Focus (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Symbha (679466) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @07:00PM (#32529652)

    I will only point out that Hubble would have been a complete failure, without the shuttle.
    The reason to have a manned space program, is entirely about the unforeseen.

    When we do need to send Bruce Willis up to the asteroid to blow it out of the way, we are really going to wish we had a suitable manned space program.

  • Re:Focus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @07:10PM (#32529776) Homepage Journal

    No, you can't, because the highest you can go is 0x1F.

  • Re:Focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @07:37PM (#32530086)

    Certainly does seem that way. There just seems to be a subculture of Americans, of which Slashdot has more than normal, that love to hate on America. Whatever America does, it's bad. They see the nation in a continually bad light. The flipside of that is usually that they look at other nations with rose coloured glasses. They see only the good, they don't see any down side. The fail to see that there are problems with any nation, as nations are made up of people and we are all flawed.

    For some I think it is just because the see that America may be sliding from a position of dominance and they take that to a nihilist extreme where it means America will become nothing, a 3rd world hellhole or worse. For some reason it never occurs to them that there have been other places like, say, England, or France that once were superpowers and now are just very nice places to live.

    Whatever the case, it does get rather annoying. Criticizing the problems America has is healthy, and necessary. Only though looking at the faults and trying to correct them can you get better. Just hating on America all the time is stupid and unproductive.

  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @08:04PM (#32530290)
    Somehow I think it will be easier to get some form of suspended animation working than to develop a functioning FTL drive.
  • Re:Focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunspot42 (455706) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @09:23PM (#32530848)

    It would have been cheaper to launch a fleet of Hubble Space Telescopes than to support the Shuttle program. Hubble cost something in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion. Shuttle missions are somewhere between $500 million and $1.5 billion each, depending on how you handle the accounting. We'll have spent about $200 billion on the Shuttle program by the time it ends. That's around 80 Hubble Space Telescopes.

    Getting humans, their life support equipment and their supplies into space is outrageously expensive using chemical rockets - especially the Shuttle, which has ridiculous per-pound launch costs compared to other boosters. Manned spaceflight is impossible to justify on a cost basis. Robots can do more, cheaper, and that'll continue to be the case unless and until we can develop some better way to get people, their habitats and their supplies into orbit. Which is one of the main things NASA should be focused on.

  • Re:Focus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ZirconCode (1477363) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @09:51PM (#32530978)

    There just seems to be a subculture of Americans, of which Slashdot has more than normal, that love to hate on America.

    Do you want to know why so many people hate Americans? It's because Americans are so full of themselves that they can't imagine a non-American English speaker.

  • Re:Focus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by UK Boz (755972) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:31PM (#32531188) Homepage
    Why does Japan's Success have to mean America's failure?
  • Re:Focus (Score:4, Insightful)

    by osu-neko (2604) on Friday June 11, 2010 @12:09AM (#32531696)

    That's around 80 Hubble Space Telescopes.

    As true as those numbers are, it ignores the fact that without people going into space, Hubble would be floating up there blind as a bat.

    ...and we wouldn't care, because we'd be getting perfectly good images from most if not all of the other 79 of them.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Friday June 11, 2010 @02:09AM (#32532250) Homepage Journal

    The ship in Poul Andersen's The Makeshift Rocket [] uses beer for propellant.

    You can't top that. You're always on the right heading, see? Heading froth into the stars!

    Solar sails, indeed. [sniff!]

  • Re:Focus (Score:4, Insightful)

    by delinear (991444) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:35AM (#32533350)
    Plenty of human endeavours have been colossal money sinks, few have given us the ability to make a claim so bold, that we left this little planet of ours under our own speed, even for just a tiny fraction of our history. Even if the universe is teeming with life, I have to believe that spaceflight is still a monumental accomplishment. Certainly one I'd rather leave as our epitaph than "we killed a bunch of people for something as tawdry as resources or religious differences". If the fact that, in evolutinary terms, we were barely out of the trees before we got our kind into space doesn't embiggen the soul, I don't know what will.
  • Re:Focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:49AM (#32533412) Journal

    I found your statement to be amusingly ironic. Only on /. would it be rated 'insightful'.

    First, please understand that Americans are generally staggeringly provincial; most Americans don't (and never will) own a passport. Most will never leave the US, because they don't have to. Most do not speak a foreign language. Contrary to the view of 'world citizens' like many Euros (as well as a significant number of patronizing, elitist Americans), this isn't because the bulk of Americans are stupid hicks, they simply don't need these things. Everything they can do, need to do, and want to do, all can take place within the comfortably-broad confines of US borders. If they're feeling slightly adventurous, they can go to Canada (barely another country) or even Mexico (where most vacation destinations are less hispanic than Laredo, TX anyway).

    So to your point, regarding Americans' 'inability to imagine a non-American English speaker', of course they don't generally assume that, it wouldn't make any sense for them to do so in context.

    Secondly, what other countries seem to interpret as arrogance appears to be some sort of reverse projected narcissism: "OMG you are so self-centered, you never notice me!"...and if you don't get the irony in that statement, well, then you're hopelessly humorless.

    To suggest that lack of regard equals arrogance is naive, presumptuous, and ultimately self-defeating. To then use THAT as a motivation to generically HATE someone, based on nothing more than their country of origin? I'd call that a self-justifying conceit - dare I call it arrogance? - itself.

    Get over yourself - nobody automagically is entitled to that level of importance; not Americans individually, and certainly not you.

  • Re:Focus (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:09AM (#32533756)

    Everything they can do, need to do, and want to do, all can take place within the comfortably-broad confines of US borders.


    Seriously, wow.

    I heard a radio host, back when I was working in Detroit c.2000, say something like that. "I've been to 48 of the 50 states, what else is there?"

    Oh, sure, you're absolutely right, the vast majority of Americans don't need to travel to another country. But neither do the vast majority of Australians (of which I am one), or Europeans. But we do, because there's a whole world out there, and the fact that they're not 'just like us' makes it more interesting to go visit.

    Show some imagination, will ya...

    For what it's worth, I've only been to about nine different countries, so I've got a lot more to see. But the place I felt most "at home"? Sweden. True, I don't speak more than three words of Swedish, but I felt a hell of a lot more at home there than almost anywhere I've been in the US (only 7 states so far, though they're spread from coast to coast).

    Oh, and by the way, I think you meant "parochial", rather than "provincial". Or maybe that's another bizarre twist the English language has taken in the US?

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:11AM (#32534248) Homepage Journal

    They had jetpacks in the late '60s. Not very utilitarian, but they had them

    The Wright Brothers invented the flying car in 1903 when my grandmother was a baby.

    Sentient robots? Nope, not unless we ever figure out what sentience is and how it works.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun