Ikaros's two year sail through space - still doing well

Ikaros takes self photo
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Sailing was the original way to get around the world's oceans without manpower - by harnessing the power of the wind. With the advent of steam and oil, sailing was thought 'old hat' for a while, merely for leisure sailors and historians. However, modern Japanese scientists at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) have gone back to sailing to transit through space, and the little sailing craft, called Ikaros, is doing well!

Ikaros, which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun is an experimental spacecraft which was launched 21 May, 2010 by a rocket. It is is the first spacecraft to unfurl a sail, which is driven by sunshine photons, and successfully demonstrate solar-sail technology in interplanetary space. It even knows how to tack, when the 'wind' is coming from the wrong direction!

Since then it has had a number of adventures:

* On December 8, 2010, IKAROS passed by Venus at about 80,800 km distance, completing the planned mission successfully, and entered its extended operation phase.

* Then, the IKAROS was scheduled - and confirmed - to have shifted itself into hibernation mode (or shutting down its onboard equipment due to low power generation) sometime before Jan. 6, 2012.

After moving into hibernation mode, the IKAROS team has been searching for the IKAROS twice a month.

* Excitingly, on 6 September, 2012, a radio wave that appeared to be emitted from the IKAROS was detected. Two days later this was confirmed that Ikaros had successfully come out of hibernation mode.

* Now the little craft has done something REALLY clever. It has jettisoned a camera to take a picture of itself, which it has just sent back to earth.

...and this is the photo, shown above, taken over two years after it started its journey. If you're young enough, you might just live long enough to go for a sail in space!