The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has successfully deployed its sails in space after 2:00 PM (CDT) Tuesday.
LightSail 2’s success is a historic moment in the realm of space travel. Currently, the spacecraft is traveling in space through the use of solar sails.
The spacecraft was launched to space on June 25, as one of Falcon Heavy rocket payloads. Since then, the satellite has been orbiting around the Earth at 720 kilometers while waiting for its sail deployment.
While in the Earth’s atmosphere, the LightSail 2 sent back pictures of the planet to its ground control station. Two photos were sent from the spacecraft. One was transmitted last July 7; it was overlooking the Caribbean Sea. On July 12, it sent an image of Mexico, with the satellite facing East.
The Planetary Society documented the historical moments through live-tweeting the events on their official Twitter account.
LightSail 2 is a tiny CubeSat or a miniature satellite with solar sails that spans 340 square feet. The solar sails were designed to raise or lower the CubeSat’s orbit.
LightSail 2’s sail deployment was a two-step procedure. A ground systems team must activate the spacecraft and ensure that its motor and sensors are working well. The motor is crucial in controlling the direction of the tiny spacecraft’s flight path. The sensors needed need to fully functional in tracking the sun since it is the spacecraft’s power source.
Next, the ground team in Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo sent a signal to the spacecraft to deploy its solar sails. John Bellardo, Professor and LightSail 2 flight controller, sent the sail deployment command from Cal Poly.
After a few minutes, the Planetary Society has confirmed that the motor is active after the sail deployment. Afterward, based on telemetry readings, the spacecraft is significantly raising its orbit, which shows that the solar sails are working well.
The dramatic moment of sail deployment was not possible without the flight controllers in Cal Poly. The team was composed of Barbara Plante from Boreal Space, Alex Diaz and Stephanie Wong from Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, Justin Foley from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Bellardo from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Dave Spencer from Purdue University, and Bruce Betts and Jennifer Vaughn from The Planetary Society.
Twitter users who were on stand-by during the sail deployment celebrated the success through greetings of congratulations. Donors to the LightSail 2 project’s fundraising were also ecstatic with the news.
Prominent professionals in the field of sciences have shared The Planetary Society’s enthusiasm on the historic moment. Bill Nye, the CEO of the non-profit organization, thanked the project’s members and backers for this LightSail project achievement.
The LightSail Project
The Planetary Society is the largest non-profit organization that concentrates on research, outreach, and projects related to astronomy, planetary science, and space exploration. It was established 39 years ago. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman established the organization in 1980 to encourage public support for space exploration.
In the early 2000s, the organization has established a project concentrating on solar sailing, a method of space travel through the use of solar energy. The technique eliminates the need for conventional rocket fuel; thereby, lessening carbon footprint for each trip.
In 2005, The Planetary Society tested solar sailing through the launch of a satellite named Cosmos 1. Unfortunately, the project failed when the tiny spacecraft was not deployed to its intended orbit. The tiny spacecraft might have been deployed earlier than intended and ended in the lower orbit. Thus, it could not get the power source needed to complete its purpose of solar sailing.
After the Cosmos 1, NASA attempted two satellite deployments using the solar sailing method in 2009 and 2011. The satellite used was a NanoSail-D and NanoSail-D2. The 2009 attempt failed, but in 2011 it was successful.
With NASA’s success on NanoSail-D2, The Planetary Society passed its critical design review for the LightSail. In 2015, the first LightSail was launched. It was successful in deploying its solar sails, and in re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere after 25 days of its launch.
The success of LightSail led to the creation of LightSail 2. This time around, LightSail will complete an orbit around the world using its solar sails as its primary power source before re-entering Earth after a year.
Once LightSail 2 completes its mission, it will revolutionize space travel with hopes of being more environment-friendly.
Both the LightSail projects were crowdfunded through Kickstarter.