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IKAROS successfully stretches wings, prepares for solar spaceflight

Sean Hollister

Though it may look like a collection of tinfoil and string, the photo above depicts what may be the first solar sail to actually propel a spacecraft. Japan's IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) just unfurled the 7.5 micron (.0003-inch) thick polyimide membrane 7.4 million kilometers from Earth this week, and expect its embedded thin-film solar panels to propel the craft past Venus and towards the dark side of the sun. Because wax and feathers only get you so far.

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