Image via New Scientist
Japan's IKAROS spacecraft is a pioneering technology for solar sailing. The ship launched in May and is the first one to be propelled entirely by sunlight. It manages to steer itself by using just the pressure of sunlight on "smart glass." Check out a video of the sail in movement. The sail is 20 meters diagonally, and a mere 0.0075 millimeters thick -- about half the thickness of a human hair. Liquid crystal devices along the outer edge of the sail are used to steer the craft. According to New Scientist, "The devices control the reflectivity of the outer sections of the sail; switching one on creates a mirror-like effect, allowing sunlight to push more on those parts of the sail."
While the spacecraft is excited about the possibilities for ditching thrusters one day, it also means leaving behind speed. The sail can only change attitude by about 1 degree a day. Here is a video of the sail's technology:
Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Solar Power in Space
Solar from Space? PG&E; Agrees to Buy Power from Satellites
Japan Space Solar Plans: Of Laser Beams and Solar Streams
Planned Solar Satellite Will Send Energy to Earth via Infrared Laser