A concept illustration of Ikaros, a "solar sail" type spacecraft. Solar sails use radiation pressure to propel satellites and other spacecraft.

Image courtesy NASA, JAXA
  • On June 21, 2005, scientists from the United States and Russia attempted to launch the world's first solar sail spacecraft: Cosmos-1. A solar sail uses radiation pressure from stars to push satellites and spacecraft into orbit. A rocket failure prevented Cosmos-1 from reaching orbit.


    Many scientists think solar sail propulsion could reduce the cost of many space projects. The technology applies to both orbital and longer-distance spaceflight. Solar sails could also extend the lifetime use of a craft. JAXA, the Japanese space agency, launched the world’s first successful solar sail spacecraft, IKAROS, in 2010.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    orbit Verb

    to move in a circular pattern around a more massive object.

    Encyclopedic Entry: orbit
    propulsion Noun

    movement caused by force.

    radiation Noun

    energy, emitted as waves or particles, radiating outward from a source.

    reduce Verb

    to lower or lessen.

    rocket Noun

    device that moves through the atmosphere by release of expanding gas.

    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    spacecraft Noun

    vehicle designed for travel outside Earth's atmosphere.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.