Solar sail spaceship cruises along using tech you have at home

Japan's Ikaros solar sail spacecraft has certainly made itself into one to watch. After a successful launch and an equally successful deployment, the ship is now showing off how it maneuvers. High tech as the ship is, its method of steering is simple and genius.

As the Ikaros moves through space, it's constantly picking up the tiniest amounts of speed as particles of light bombards its sail. This sends it spinning, though it maintains a steady course thanks to small positioning jets that fire to automatically correct its attitude.

The Ikaros can't rely on those jets forever, though. It needs a low-power solution, and luckily Japan's space agency, JAXA, already has the solution: eight LCD screens that are as thin as the craft's sail, and are positioned strategically to allow it to be steered. That's right, this thing basically uses the kind of tech that's behind your computer monitor.

To adjust the direction of the Ikaros, the team activates the LCDs in different configurations. Once activated, photons hitting the surface are bounced straight back, putting more pressure on that part of the craft and changing its course. When the LCDs are off, the photons hit the sail normally.

Could a ship like the Ikaros one day carry humans deep into space? It's very possible, though right now the ship itself is incredibly slow. It accelerates constantly, though the start of the trip would be agonizing.

JAXA, via PopSci

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