LightSail has raised its orbit driven only by SUNLIGHT in landmark achievement

A small spacecraft cruising high above Earth has successfully climbed thousands of feet in orbit just by ‘sailing on sunlight.’

The Planetary Society announced this week that the LightSail 2 craft has raised its orbit by 3.2 kilometers (1.9 miles) since its solar sail opened up on July 23.

Now, the highest point sits at an altitude of about 729km (452mi).

The achievement is a testament to the idea that an inexpensive solar sail really can be a viable method of propulsion for small craft. 

This photo provided by the Planetary Society shows a portion of the LightSail2 spacecraft, top, and part of Earth, centered on Baja California, Mexico. It was one of the photos transmitted from The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft, confirming the successful deployment

This photo provided by the Planetary Society shows a portion of the LightSail2 spacecraft, top, and part of Earth, centered on Baja California, Mexico. It was one of the photos transmitted from The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft, confirming the successful deployment

This photo provided by the Planetary Society shows a portion of the LightSail2 spacecraft, top, and part of Earth, centered on Baja California, Mexico. It was one of the photos transmitted from The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft, confirming the successful deployment

It comes a week after the team announced that LightSail 2 had officially become the first spacecraft to make an orbital maneuver of this kind driven by sunlight alone.

‘Years of computer simulations. Countless ground tests. They’ve all led up to now,’ The Planetary Society said in a statement at the end of July.

‘The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft is successfully raising its orbit solely on the power of sunlight.’

LightSail2 embodies a propulsion technique that, conceptually, dates back hundreds of years and was brought into the public eye during the 1970s by esteemed scientist and educator, Carl Sagan.

The Planetary Society also shared a new image sent back by the craft

The Planetary Society also shared a new image sent back by the craft

The Planetary Society also shared a new image sent back by the craft

It requires no fuel, and is instead driven by photons – or particles of light – emitted by the sun.

By the craft’s design, the enormous solar sail will reflect these particles and, as their momentum transfers, thrust forward with its CubeSat in tow.

After two months of what the team calls its ‘orbit-raising’ phase, the sail will begin to deorbit the Earth and enter the atmosphere in about a year. The sail will burn up in the process.

The Planetary Society first announced earlier this month that the 18-foot-wide Mylar sail had successfully deployed, following a late-June launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It’s just one five-thousandth of an inch thick, or about the width of a human hair.

The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded craft consists of a CubeSat roughly the size of a loaf of bread, and a now-unfurled solar sail that stretches more than 18 feet wide.

During its launch, scientists revealed the mission’s progress minute-by-minute in a live-streamed event.

‘For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making,’ said science educator and Planetary Society CEO, Bill Nye in a statement.

‘Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun. 

‘The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.’

WHAT IS LIGHTSAIL2?

The Planetary Society launched its LightSail2 spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the end of June in hopes to put the first ever sunlight-propelled craft in Earth orbit.

The craft consists of a CubeSat roughly the size of a loaf of bread, and a solar sail that stretches more than 18 feet wide.

It requires no fuel, and is instead driven by photons – or particles of light – emitted by the sun.

By the craft’s design, the enormous solar sail will reflect these particles and, as their momentum transfers, thrust forward with its CubeSat in tow.  

LightSail2 embodies a propulsion technique that, conceptually, dates back hundreds of years and was brought into the public eye during the 1970s by esteemed scientist and educator, Carl Sagan

LightSail2 embodies a propulsion technique that, conceptually, dates back hundreds of years and was brought into the public eye during the 1970s by esteemed scientist and educator, Carl Sagan

LightSail2 embodies a propulsion technique that, conceptually, dates back hundreds of years and was brought into the public eye during the 1970s by esteemed scientist and educator, Carl Sagan

LightSail 2: Specs (with sails deployed)

Size comparison: Boxing ring

Sail material: Mylar

Sail thickness: 4.5 microns (less than the width of a human hair)

 Sail boom length: 4 m (13 ft)

Sail width: 5.6 m (18.4 ft)

Total sail area: 32 sq. m (344 sq. ft)

Sail layout: Four triangular sails forming a square, connected with cobalt-alloy booms that unwind like tape measures

 via Planetary Society

 

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