Using solar wind to travel through space has been a dream for centuries, first imagined by Johannes Kepler in the 1600s.
On Tuesday, solar sailing took another step toward becoming a proven technology when the Pasadena-based Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 mission team successfully deployed the spacecraft’s solar sail.
As of noon Tuesday, “All indications are that LightSail 2’s solar sail has deployed successfully,” according to a live Internet feed of the mission. “Flight controllers sent the deployment command at approximately 11:45 PDT … Telemetry showed the motor count increasing as expected, and the motor appeared to halt at the correct time. LightSail 2’s cameras also appeared to capture imagery as planned.”
The Planetary Society launched LightSail 1, a test “nanosatellite,” in 2015. The test was unable to progress forward because of issues with the engineering. Since then, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students have aided scientists in testing crucial ground station operations in preparation for Tuesday’s mission to have the silver sail soak up power from the sun while in orbit around Earth.
Like LightSail 1, LightSail 2 is a citizen-funded project that plans to test the idea of harnessing the sun’s photons in order to mobilize a spacecraft. Live coverage of the sail deployment at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo ground station began Tuesday.
Solar sailing transcends the limitations of space travel by utilizing the sun as an inexhaustible source of energy.
LightSail 2 is focused on becoming the first solar sail launched with the purpose of orbiting Earth. Its cube-shaped satellite, or cubesat, is about the size of a loaf of bread and carries a boxing-ring-sized solar sail made of Mylar, which is designed to collect the sun’s photons.
The video from mission control at Cal Poly has been live-streamed at planetary.org/live.