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IKAROS is currently happily accelerating through space via its solar sail, an incredible success for Japan's space program.  (Source: JAXA)

IKAROS shows steady acceleration (red ticks) after deployment of the sail.  (Source: JAXA)
NASA is yet again left behind in the space race

Once the U.S. led in the space race, exploring the moon and sending probes to distant stars.  Now that's far from the case, as funding to the U.S. space program has been cut and goals scaled back.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other innovative nations willing to step in and pick up the slack.

Japan last month launched the first full solar sail craft into space, transforming a science fiction dream into reality.  The craft, IKAROS, successfully deployed its solar sail.

Now the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has updated the world on its progress.  The sail is performing extremely well, constantly accelerating, with every passing day.

Japanese researchers calculated that each photon striking the sail exerts 0.00025 pounds of force on the sail.  That force adds up slowly, speeding up the the 3,000 square foot sail and its attached 700-pound payload.

With the new Japanese success, solar sail look to become the new gold standard for deep space propulsion, until better technologies (plasma enginesnuclear engines) are more fully developed.  And the success is a sign of Japan's growing presence as a space pioneer.

Japan plans to land a robotic army on the moon, starting a few years from now.  In the private sector, the Planetary Society, a space research group, and Cosmos Studios of Ithaca, N.Y., headed by Ann Druyan, a film producer and widow of the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan, will launch the LightSail-1, another solar sail design, into space late this year.

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Other Innovative Nations
By m1ldslide1 on 7/19/2010 11:11:24 AM , Rating: 3
Fortunately, there are plenty of other innovative nations willing to step in and pick up the slack.

Yes it is amazing what you can fund when you're not paying for multiple foreign wars halfway around the globe. Just saying.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By HostileEffect on 7/19/2010 11:26:59 AM , Rating: 3
welfare costs more.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By SSDMaster on 7/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: Other Innovative Nations
By quiksilvr on 7/19/2010 12:52:57 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure he was joking.

According to, we've spent around a trillion dollars on those two wars as of 2001. If my math is correct, that means we can pay 10 million people $100,000.

Keep in mind that welfare has been around for much longer than 2001. If you wanted to incorporate the first Iraq War, Korea, and Vietnam and adjust that for today's dollars (not to mention adjusting the welfare money spent), I think its pretty safe to assume we've spent more on wars then on welfare.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By 91TTZ on 7/19/2010 1:44:47 PM , Rating: 4
We've spent about a trillion dollars on wars from 2001-present.

To put that into perspective, the US spent $1.01 trillion dollars on social welfare programs in 2000 alone, according to the Financial Report of the U.S. Government.

Since 2000, that has only increased. The latest figures point to a total welfare payment of about $2 trillion per year.

According to that report, the US Department of Defense budget is 20% of the US total budget. This includes the wars you mentioned plus all other military expenses that you'd still have in peacetime. Welfare programs, on the other hand, account for 44% of the total US budget.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By FITCamaro on 7/19/2010 1:57:19 PM , Rating: 3
1) Welfare encompasses far more than just the checks sent to people every month. Food stamps, housing assistance, etc are all welfare. Medicaid is welfare. If you actually bothered to look you'd see that welfare programs have far surpassed military expenditures for decades.

2) Congress and Obama spent the entire cost of the wars in his first year in office. Don't try to lie to people that these wars are costing more than welfare.

3) You assume that money paid out for welfare programs goes directly to the people. Government programs have massive overhead costs. This is why the government shouldn't be involved in the private sector. It raises costs significantly. Because there's no reason to be efficient when it isn't your money.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By quiksilvr on 7/19/2010 3:13:12 PM , Rating: 5
1) Military spending encompasses more than just what's considered war "time". Research, construction, testing, etc are all military expenses. It's a constant tug of war between military being more and welfare being more. During times of war (aka, now), military spending is dominant.

According to, from 1965 - 2000 (35 years), in 2000 dollars, $8.29 trillion was spent. In WWII, (1939-1945, 6 years), they spent $3.3 trillion. They spent $220 billion a year on welfare in the span of 35 years. They spent $550 billion a year in the span of 6 years on the war.

2) I honestly, truly cannot find this information. If he really TRULY spent over a trillion dollars in year one ALL IN THAT YEAR(not a proposed plan that is stating that in the span of 10 years they intend to spend this much) then all I have to say is damn.

3) I never assumed that nor have I ever stated that I assumed that. And I didn't assume that all military spending goes to the military (cough::Cheney::cough).

Am I saying Obama is doing a great job? No. He lies, his administration is constantly being influenced by lobbyists, and they're getting involved in areas where they shouldn't be involved.

But at the same time, he's getting involved in areas where the government NEEDS to be involved. We cannot live in a purely socialist society nor can we live in a purely capitalist society. Both extremes lead to corruption. Look at the US, look at USSR and other eastern European countries.

We need to agree on a middle ground. Where the people have their say, and where the government have their say. Without either, we will have nothing.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By TSS on 7/19/2010 8:31:58 PM , Rating: 2
To reply to 2, look at the yearly deficit history:

specifically the last 3 years. can you tell when obama got into office?

And crisis, smicis. All you got for those figures is results nobody can check (yay! we saved 3 million jobs even though we lost 8 million at the same time! good thing GM didn't go bankrupt).

Oh, and don't forget his trillion dollar healthcare reform either.

It doesn't matter if welfare or war has a higher place on the budget because at this rate they'll both be overtaken by interest on your debt. Also i found this interesting:

Not the diagram (i doubt it's 100% accurate) as much as what's beneath it:
This was the first year that mandatory expenditures exceeded tax revenues.

If that's true your in even deeper then i thought.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By homebredcorgi on 7/19/2010 3:18:28 PM , Rating: 2
Go here:

2010 defense Spending: $722 billion
2010 Income Security Spending: $629 billion

Income security includes unemployment, food stamps, tax credits, and even military retirement funding (does that count as welfare in your book?). Note that this does not include medicare or medicaid.

1) By your definition, you are correct. But most people would not include Medicare or Medicaid in reference to "welfare." Most people I know would think of food stamps, section 8 housing, etc. Nevertheless, I would tend to agree with your statement given your definition.

2) Obama passed the Stimulus, bush had the bank bailouts. While both were very large amounts, please don't try to imply that Obama is the only one who ran up the debt over the last decade.

3) Reference these "massive" overhead costs please. By this logic, we should pay private companies to fight our wars as well....

From the link above, medicare shows total costs of $498 billion with total admin costs of about $7 billion (includes fraud and abuse control costs). If 1.4% overhead costs is massive, then perhaps we've just been arguing semantics.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By homebredcorgi on 7/19/2010 3:23:03 PM , Rating: 4
As an aside, science funding represents less than 0.9% of our total budget (including NASA!). All science related funding is located in the lower right corner of the chart posted above (third box from the right). Granted this doesn't include some DOE R&D spending, but still.

Just imagine if we bumped that up to 2-3%....

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By mudgiestylie on 7/19/2010 5:03:45 PM , Rating: 3
"science funding" is actually quite a bit more substantial than that. It just isn't listed that way because a massive portion (sorry im too lazy to look for the numbers) is in different sections of the budget. For instance military R&D is science funding, university grants are science funding... DARPA, DoJ, CIA, NSA, HHS, CDC all have massive research arms. I think its pretty safe to say that that research is quite a bit more than .9 percent of the budget. Also consider state university systems... not a federal budget issue i know, but im just pointing out that science is a massive expenditure for the american public in one form or another, and also that accountants like to bury spending all over the map (this helps to keep them employed:)).

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By FITCamaro on 7/19/2010 1:43:52 PM , Rating: 3

So even before the massive increases in government entitlement spending defense was around 25% of the budget. For something the federal government was constitutionally obligated to do. Now that percentage is smaller with the mass expansion of the welfare state.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By alanore on 7/19/2010 2:39:55 PM , Rating: 2
On a sort of related note, an awesome break down of the discretionary budget linked to below.

Its called Death and Taxes (Its a big jpg graph 3500 x 2333px)

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By HrilL on 7/19/2010 4:39:46 PM , Rating: 2
welfare costs way more but a lot of it is paid for out of state budgets that are not taken into account of the Federal costs. But it is still the largest of the federal costs as well. something like 1.2T dollars. Military spending is around 550B. I don't think that counts both wars though. With those I guess it puts it about on par with federal welfare spending but still far bellow what is actually spent if you added up all the States costs.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By mudgiestylie on 7/19/2010 5:06:40 PM , Rating: 2
another thing to think about is that a lot of the cost of these wars aren't the military spending, its state dept, nation-building type s**t. Building things costs a lot more than blowing things up.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By roadhog1974 on 7/19/2010 11:55:06 PM , Rating: 3
japan spends more per capita on welfare.

just saying.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By FITCamaro on 7/19/2010 2:04:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah imagine what we could do in space if we didn't have $1.5 trillion+ in wealth redistribution programs.

The two wars make up such a small percentage of the budget compared to those its not even funny. Yet you'll get claps from the other morons on here since you're too blind, ignorant, or in agreement with the true reason we don't have money to fund a proper space program. In your world ACORN deserves a higher federal budget than NASA.

RE: Other Innovative Nations
By corduroygt on 7/19/2010 9:57:09 PM , Rating: 2
Why can't we cut both at the same time, wouldn't that be more fair?

Neat but...
By MrBlastman on 7/19/2010 10:47:55 AM , Rating: 1
Not really significant. I look at these sails as more a novelty than anything, at least, in our own solar system with our own star. There just aren't enough photons in the solar wind out there to get them moving fast enough--that is, unless you have an extremely large sail... which, is at risk to errant debree in space that could tear it or worse.

Don't get me wrong, the technology in the sail itself is quite an accomplishment for Japan. I'm impressed at what they have managed to do, but, I think all that effort might have been better directed into solving other larger problems which limit our mobility between the stars in a more dramatic manner.

RE: Neat but...
By DanNeely on 7/19/2010 11:09:44 AM , Rating: 3
A lot depends on how hot they can get before melting. The fastest way to send a solar sail probe to the outer solar system is to dive at the sun to get a large acceleration on closest approach.

The other benefit is for long duration missions, eg the handful of probes bumbing around after an initial comet/asteroid visit. Space agencies keep an open eye for anything that happens to be in an orbit close enough to visit with them, but the limiting factor is the residual amount of fuel. A very low thrust that never runs out is better here.

The same is true for probes manuvering around gas giants moons for years; conserving fuel becomes a major limiting factor in mission planning as time goes by; although that far from the sun a magnetic sail interacting with the planetary field might be more efficient.

RE: Neat but...
By Tyndel on 7/19/2010 1:09:31 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is that solar sails work best when going away from the sun. Much like wind sails I think the best this tech could hope to accomplish is tacking while powering an ion drive to give rudder control (At least for inner solar low cost propulsion).

The other issue is, lets say we wanted to send one of these to Alpha Cent 1/2 there, ish (Depending on solar output), it starts actively slowing.

So while its an interesting feat of engineering we have known for years that its an unfeasible tech (Got to love sci-fi writers) for star travel or even probes to other systems. I guess you could un-deploy it 1/2 way to your destination but.....

RE: Neat but...
By nafhan on 7/19/2010 2:19:06 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is that solar sails work best when going away from the sun.
It depends whether you are trying to accelerate or decelerate in regards to the star system. If the ultimate destination is stopping another star system rather than just flying through at instellar velocity, "actively slowing" is a good thing. It means the spacecraft can be at rest relative to the destination star system upon arrival. So, your scenario actually describes a positive aspect of solar sail propulsion.

RE: Neat but...
By geddarkstorm on 7/19/2010 3:10:55 PM , Rating: 2
That's a good point. Used with other propulsion techs, this can easily be turned into a solar parachute.

RE: Neat but...
By DanNeely on 7/19/2010 3:27:06 PM , Rating: 2
Actually they work equally well going towards the sun as away from it. What you need to realize is that a sail ship starts in the same orbit around the sun as the Earth. To move sunward you angle the sail at 45* relative to motion so that the sunlight reflects off the forward facing side (relative to orbital motion) slowing the ship down. To move away from the sun you have it hit the rear facing side to push it faster.

The caveat is that solid matter sails work best close to the sun; plasma sails don't have this limitation because they expand as the suns magnetic field weakens growing in size at the same rate that the force per unit area on them shrinks. Unfortunately plasma sails are still well into our future.

RE: Neat but...
By drycrust3 on 7/19/2010 4:41:30 PM , Rating: 2
The fastest way to send a solar sail probe to the outer solar system is to dive at the sun to get a large acceleration on closest approach.

Incorrect! Go back to basic Newton's formula F=ma. Regardless of the speed of the probe, the actual acceleration you would get using your ideas at a particular distance from the sun is is exactly the same as what they are currently getting because the actual force from the photons would be the same.
Since this is a "proof of concept", I believe they have done the right thing by trying not to be too clever.
I am sure there were lots of ideas they would have liked to have included, all of which add weight and cost and time to what is, after all a proof of concept. At the end of the day you either draw a line in the sand and say "Right or wrong: this is it!", or you be like the Israelis when they tried to build a fighter plane: technology moves so fast that you are out of date before the thing is built.

RE: Neat but...
By niva on 7/19/2010 5:14:31 PM , Rating: 2
There are many forces acting, biggest of which is gravity. What he described is a sling around the sun to utilize it's gravity and the more intense light close to the sun. You'll get many more photons to "repel" you when you're closer if the sail can withstand the heat.

You can't just point the sail away from the sun and expect to fly away from it.

And to make this all work you must be very clever. It may seem simple but it really isn't. The most important thing about Japan's achievement here is that they got this thing into space intact and managed to deploy it. Now it's time to play and see what they'll do with it.

RE: Neat but...
By DanNeely on 7/20/2010 9:21:31 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure if you can get anything useful from a gravity slingshot without going extremely close to the surface of the sun, while even just diving to venus's orbit would get you a ~2x boot in peak thrust.

RE: Neat but...
By DanNeely on 7/20/2010 9:16:38 AM , Rating: 2
You're the one who is incorrect. Gravity is a net zero in the sundive because the loss from fighting the suns gravity on the outbound leg is exactly equal to the gravitational gain from the sun dive.

troll byline
By sprockkets on 7/19/2010 11:18:24 AM , Rating: 1
NASA is yet again left behind in the space race

Yes jason, we are sooooo behind. As if we care

RE: troll byline
By neogrin on 7/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: troll byline
By SSDMaster on 7/19/2010 12:06:55 PM , Rating: 1
What he meant was that he doesn't care for Jason's opinion in a news/labeled blog post.

I believe...

RE: troll byline
By Kutcher on 7/19/2010 12:53:07 PM , Rating: 2
I would actually call it an accurate observation, it's not a 3 page rant so just get over it.

RE: troll byline
By SSDMaster on 7/19/2010 1:11:59 PM , Rating: 2
I don't have a problem with this particular article.. The U.S./Obama is definitely not interested in space exploration at this time. And Jason is right on about that.

RE: troll byline
By StraightCashHomey on 7/19/2010 3:54:32 PM , Rating: 2
You read the website. You care.

Japan ...
By MarcLeFou on 7/19/2010 10:37:57 AM , Rating: 3
And soon these solar sails will be the launch vehicle for the first Gundam launched into space igniting the war for control of space by subsequent offworld colonies.

But seriously what's the speed after a month ? Weren't solar sails painfully slow to accelerate so really only useful for deep space probes and even then the sails loose their effectivness the further away you get from the sun ?

Wouldn't nuclear engines (like voyager ?) be more effective at deep space exploration ?

RE: Japan ...
By DanNeely on 7/19/2010 11:04:52 AM , Rating: 2
Voyager had a conventional propulsion system. The radio-isotope battery was only used to power it.

RE: Japan ...
By FITCamaro on 7/19/2010 2:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
Doesn't take away from that nuclear is the best option for space travel.

What Am I Missing Here?
By RikHollis on 7/20/2010 12:38:51 PM , Rating: 2
0.00025 pounds/photon of force? 0.004 oz/photon? Wouldn't hitting it with a flashlight blast it across the room? Is it possible that Jason meant a total force of 0.00025 pounds across the entire surface of the sail? I'm no math whiz, but something seems off in the article, even if E=MC^2

RE: What Am I Missing Here?
By DanNeely on 7/20/2010 1:46:51 PM , Rating: 2
that's probably what was meant. DT's science reporting has an embarrassing number of gaffes in it.

By Yaos on 7/19/2010 11:57:15 AM , Rating: 2
What is with the FUD regarding the change to NASA? The cut was to the moon mission. They are still sending out satellites and other missions.

Force on the sail.
By Jean Bosseler on 7/19/2010 12:56:13 PM , Rating: 2
'Japanese researchers calculated that each photon striking the sail exerts 0.00025 pounds of force on the sail.'

This is not quite right, the force is not from a single photon, but from the total radiation onto the sail.

By saganhill on 7/19/2010 2:31:34 PM , Rating: 2
Lets make Japan responsible for all Space related tech. Then USA and NATO can concentrate on all the wars. :|

Save your Keystrokes
By TimberJon on 7/19/2010 4:14:33 PM , Rating: 2
Don't waste your time and brainpower proving how smart you are or how fast you can google or wiki juicy factoids.

All the intelligence that resides here in this thread should focus on a productive and informative talk about the solar sail and it's future.

All that matters to me is JET, ITER, VASIMIR and other similar technologies. Screw the world's irreversible economic decline. Get me off this planet! I'll go prospect in the belt.

Other innovative propulsion concept
By rbrtw on 7/19/2010 9:18:08 PM , Rating: 2
Still have the one up...
By roostitup on 7/20/2010 1:52:01 AM , Rating: 2
Too bad the US has already invested in probes that have been gathering (and still are) data from space. We still have a huge advantage considering the probes we sent into space many years ago will always be further along than these.

By Visual on 7/19/10, Rating: -1
RE: nonsense
By quiksilvr on 7/19/2010 10:46:03 AM , Rating: 2
Nothing is instantaneous, not even a photon. Photons travel at 186,000 miles/second, which is insanely fast, but not instant. So it isn't nonsense.

RE: nonsense
By quiksilvr on 7/19/2010 10:47:47 AM , Rating: 2
And Planck time (tp) is ~ 5.3 x 10^-44 second. so it takes 5.3 x 10^44 tp for a photon to move one mile.

RE: nonsense
By Visual on 7/20/2010 4:40:26 AM , Rating: 2
Speed of light has nothing to do here. This is about interaction between atoms and photons - and it is instantaneous. a photon gets absorbed, the atom's electron gets to higher energy state and the atom momentum is increased, but this is a single event that occurs at a single specific moment of time, not a process lasting some period. Downrate all you want, you'll still remain clueless of the actual physics.

RE: nonsense
By jnolen on 7/19/2010 11:22:08 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't the lack of gravity (or much smaller amount of gravity) and friction in space enable that force to last over an indefinite interval of time as opposed to the gradual acceleration we would be use to on earth?

RE: nonsense
By DanNeely on 7/19/2010 11:54:54 AM , Rating: 2
That's correct. Low thrust, extended 'burn' time systems like solar sails and ion drives can result in much higher velocities and shorter travel times than conventional rockets that only burn for a few minutes and then coast the rest of the way once orbital velocity is achieved and the atmosphere is exited.

RE: nonsense
By overzealot on 7/20/2010 2:01:08 AM , Rating: 2
Not really indefinite, as the photon density from the sun decreases at a rate of 4 x PI x Distance squared. (surface of a sphere)
The large surface area of the sail means that resistance does limit velocity eventually as well.
We could provide additional thrust from ground based lasers - perhaps this is one of the objectives of Japan's moon-base?

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