Japan's space agency has its sights on unexplored asteroids as far away as Jupiter, a project that at one level draws on centuries of sail science.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency this month unveiled a huge prototype solar sail designed to power a JAXA probe as it explores asteroids that circle the sun on roughly the same orbit as Jupiter. The sail measures 2,500 sq. meters and is made up of thousands of ultraslim solar panels.

"The fascination of the universe lies in its countless unknowns, and our research is a challenge to reveal the mysteries with our own hands," said Jun Matsumoto, a JAXA researcher who designed the kite-like sail.