China has tested its first solar sail-powered spacecraft in orbit.
The SIASAIL-I uses technology that will enable spacecraft to reach beyond the solar system, according to the institute developing the technology.
The Shenyang Institute of Automation (SIA) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been testing the sail attached to a satellite, including deployment of the flexible sail material, and the test is “progressing smoothly and successfully”.
Liu Jinguo, deputy director at the SIA Space Automation Technology Research Office, said: “They managed to fold the flexible membrane [sail] and put it into the deployment machine, which is smaller than a billiard ball”.
The unfolded sail covers an area equal to around eight “MacBook Air laptop computers”.
The spacecraft can be used in many types of exploration including “asteroid exploration, geomagnetic storm monitoring, solar polar exploration and space debris removal”, said SIA, which is based in Northeast China's Liaoning province.
Solar sails are a method of spacecraft propulsion that use radiation pressure from sunlight.
The world's first solar sail spacecraft was launched by Russia in 2001, other countries, such as Japan, USA and the UK, have since carried out research on the technology.
Meanwhile, China’s state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) has launched the country’s largest carrier rocket from Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the southern province of Hainan.
The rocket was carrying China’s heaviest and most advanced communications satellite, the Shijian-20, according to the CASTC.
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