I want to praise Japanese space exploration. The country is doing fantastic work. Check it out:
Akatsuki. Launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Kyushu on May 21, this Venus Climate Orbiter is carrying five cameras to take 3-D photos of the Venusian atmosphere. It will also scan the surface for active volcanoes, and attempt to detect lightning. Akatsuki is expected to arrive at Venus in December of this year and to collect data for two years. Akatsuki launch:
IKAROS (International Kitecraft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun). This experimental craft was launched aboard the same rocket as Akatsuki. IKAROS is a solar sail craft with film-like solar cells embedded in the sails. When unfurled, the sail will form a square, 46 feet per side. I believe deployment of the sail is beginning as I write this and experiments regarding acceleration from sun power are planned over the next six months. Diagram of space kite:
Hayabusa. This asteroid sample return mission was launched seven years ago. It reached asteroid Itokawa in 2005. While there, the craft experienced a variety of engine and communication problems. Hayabusa most likely touched down on the asteroid twice but no one knows whether it managed to pick up material as planned. Scientists made heroic efforts to get the craft on a course back to Earth after losing all of its chemical rocket propellant and three of its four ion engines.
Miraculously, the traveler has come home three years past the scheduled return. If all goes as planned, Hayabusa will soon release its spring-loaded 16-inch sample container, which will reenter the atmosphere at 25,000 mph and parachute to a landing site in Australia on June 13. Just a few days from now! No matter what happens, this flight will be remembered for the persistence and ingenuity of its flight controllers and the flexibility of the craft. Asteroid Itokawa:
Luna Ring. Maybe they are crazy, but the Shimizu Corporation, a Japanese construction firm, has a plan for a huge solar energy project. By huge, I mean gigantic: providing power for our entire planet. They want to build a ring of solar panels around the entire equator of the moon. That’s 11,000 kilometers. The ring would start out just a few kilometers wide, and eventually grow to 400 kilometers. The energy harvested by the ring would be beamed to Earth with microwaves and lasers, where receiving stations turn it into usable electricity.
Sounds difficult, I know, but they’ve got it all figured out: the robots for leveling the ground and assembling machines; the astronauts to support the robots; the use of lunar material and solar heat to make concrete, bricks, and glass fibers; and, of course, the 20-kilometer antennas to beam the power to Earth.
You may chortle, snicker, or make other sounds of derision, but this is the sort of thing we as a civilization could do if we weren’t a bunch of disorganized hooligans, spending most of our income on the military instead of educating ourselves, feeding and nurturing ourselves, and getting population growth under control. Dream large: