While the LightSail 2 concept isn’t new – it’s 80 years old – it’s only now that we have conclusive proof that the innovative propulsion system really works and will soon change the entire space industry for the better.
The Planetary Society reports that the one-of-a-kind mission of an innovative satellite powered by the sun’s rays is going well, and to prove it, astronomers have shown phenomenal images of the sail and the Earth. Interestingly, the sail was not damaged, as was the case with the deorbit sail tested by Polish students in the PW-Sat2 mission.
It turns out that LightSail 2, thanks to the sun’s rays, has risen 8 kilometers in orbit. Currently, its height is no longer increasing. This is because the sail is no longer able to compensate for the drag from flying through the residual atmosphere and its airspeed is slowing down, making it unable to ascend. Scientists expect a slow descent in the coming days.
At the beginning of August this year, the microsatellite aligned itself towards the Sun and the release and unfolding of the sail took place, thus the most breakneck part of the entire mission began. The organization has also published images of our beautiful planet taken by the device and the sail itself. We can see with our own eyes that it performs superbly.
LightSail 2 consists of four small sails made of a material called Mylar. They have a total area of 32 square meters. The sail does not have a traditional propulsion system, it travels in Earth’s orbit, pushed by photons coming from our daily star.
The association wanted the device to fly around our planet. This maneuver succeeded, so we can talk about a real revolution in the missions of small space installations. No need to install a propulsion system in microsatellites will not only drastically reduce the cost of space missions, but also accelerate the construction of devices and extend their operation in orbit.
Plans to use such propulsion in spacecraft appeared as early as the 1930s, but back then it was pure science fiction. The Planetary Society in 2015 conducted a test of the first prototype LightSail 1. At the time, it was not without problems, but eventually the device entered the atmosphere as planned and burned up over the South Atlantic.
The scientists collected valuable data that allowed them to build a new prototype. Now an association put together in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman, has conducted another experiment. This time the sail is more advanced. The launch of the LightSail 2 mission took place on June 25. The device flew into orbit aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX as part of the STP-2 mission for the US Department of Defense.