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Japan hopes to turn the wildest fantasies of science fiction into reality today with a “space yacht” that will draw on the power of the sun to take it to Venus and, perhaps, far beyond.

A Mitsubishi H-2A rocket carrying Ikaros (an acronym for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) is set to blast off from Tanegashima island in south-west Japan at 6.44am local time.

The long-awaited launch is seen as part of a mission that could change the course of interplanetary exploration.

If it is successful, Ikaros will be carried through deep space at high speed with the help of a 20-metre sail, propelled by the pressure from solar particles.

The flexible membrane sail, which at 32.5 micrometers is about half the thickness of a human hair, is covered with thin-film solar panels that will create a hybrid of electricity and pressure, according to Jaxa, the Japanese space exploration agency.

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