Analysts believe that the launch of the new Japanese solar sail demonstrator Ikaros evidences the fact that the dawn of a new type of space exploration is upon us.
They say that the spacecraft proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the technology is feasible, and that it could in the future be used to drive ships and satellites way beyond the solar system.
This is precisely what space agencies around the world are looking for, a rather inexpensive way of exploring other worlds, way beyond Earth's orbit.
Come to think of it, using sails that harness the power of the Sun is not different than what our forefathers did to harness the power of the wind. Ships allowed them to conquer the world.
Now, it could be that solar sails could help us conquer the solar system, and also the galaxy beyond it, Space reports.
Seeing how Japan has proven the viability of these sails, other nations and groups will try to launch similar devices as well. NASA will launch its spacecraft this fall, whereas the Planetary Society, which already tried to do so once, will have another go at it next year.
“Solar sailing is the only known technology we have on Earth that will someday take us to the stars,” explains the executive director of the Planetary Society, Louis Friedman.
“If you want to go really quickly to the outer edge of the solar system you'd want to use a solar sail,” adds space expert Les Johnson.
“A chemical system [such as] a rocket would run out of gas long before you get there. With solar sails, as long as you've got the Sun you can keep going,” adds the scientist, who is the deputy manager of the Advanced Concepts Office.
The organization is based at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), in Huntsville, Alabama. Experts now believe that self-powered spacecraft are the future, and not those that use conventional fuel.
A further use for solar sail-powered ships would be to have them deployed around the Sun, so that they can keep an eye on the phenomena and events taking place at the star's surface.
Conceivably, in the future manned spacecrafts that rely on the Sun for propulsion could take people to other destinations beyond the stars.
For now, experts need to focus on perfecting their achievement, and ensuring that new sail materials are produced and then sent to space.