Japan launched the solar sail Icarus

21 May 2010, Japan The first solar sail named Icarus launched into space.

Solar sail technology uses light to propel spacecraft, but not in the same way that traditional solar panels do. While solar panels use light to generate electricity, spacecraft with solar sails rely on light alone to traverse outer space.

A model of the Icarus probe in the museum.

Light particles called photons actually propel the spacecraft forward. A photon alone can’t do this, but with enough photons hitting the spacecraft, propulsion is possible. You just need a large surface to store all that light.

Scientists have been toying with the idea since the 1800s, but Japan finally proved it was possible when it launched the Icarus mission.

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