JAXA’s little space camera that could

17 06 2010

A quick update on the recently-launched IKAROS Japanese solar sail spacecraft:  Earlier this week the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported visual confirmation that IKAROS’s solar sail has fully expanded as designed.

IKAROS solar sail fully deployed. Credit: JAXA

As you can see, a complete success!  Congratulations are in order all around to the IKAROS team as the craft enters into its full test mode and JAXA sees just how fast they can get this thing to go.

…But the real story here to me, considering that IKAROS is now on its way to Venus, is “How did they get this picture?”  The image is much too close for a remote telescope to have taken it.  It’s almost as though some unsung hero behind the lens stepped outside for a moment to snap a quick shot.

Enter the little camera that could:

Image of the Separation Camera prior to launch. Credit: JAXA

Unassumingly called “separation camera 1,” this tiny wireless device – one of two twin cameras small enough to fit inside a film canister that were packed next to IKAROS’s central structure – was launched away by spring and grabbed the hero shot of the solar sail as it drifted away.

What a cool idea, and it was flawlessly executed, to boot.

So, here’s to you, Separation Camera 1.  IKAROS gets all the glory, but without you, we’d have never seen it.








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