Science

Mission ‘LightSail 2’ declared a success

Mission ‘LightSail 2’ declared a success”

LightSail 2, the spacecraft the Planetary Society sent up to space approximately a month ago recently unfurled a light-catching sail and has been "raising its orbit exclusively on the power of sunlight". Now, the Planetary Society has released thumbnails showing the whole process.

"This idea that you could fly spacecraft - that you could get propulsion in space - on nothing but photons is really surprising", Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, said during a press conference. The bold mission plans to use a solar sail and a 6U CubeSat, or miniaturised spacecraft, to gather data on nearby asteroids that hold potential for future human missions.

Following Japan's IKAROS solar sail, which was launched in 2010, LightSail 2 is only the second-ever successful attempt at solar flying.

LightSail 2 is the latest demonstration of solar sail technology, which uses the gentle pressure of photons, light particles, on light and reflective surface to propel a spacecraft through space, similar to the way that the wind pushes a sailboat in the sea.

LightSail 2 follows the same trajectory.

This impressive algorithm is still being updated and tweaked. The astronomer thought the tails of the comets he was observing were actually blown away by some kind of solar breeze, so naturally, this sort of idea of using a solar sail came to mind. During this time, scientists will work to refine the solar sail, particularly how the craft's momentum wheel works to keep the sails pointed at the sun.

All the process is realized by using electromagnetic torque poles, which direct the spacecraft with Earth's magnetic field.

"In other words, although we've declared mission success, and we did this thing that we have been hoping to do for - depending on how you reckon - 42 years, LightSail 2 will fly for nearly another year".

The satellite was developed by the Planetary Society, a California-based space research and education nonprofit group whose chief executive is the TV personality popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Unfortunately, this temporarily takes the spacecraft out of its proper orientation for solar sailing, so scientists are still trying to figure out how to reduce these saturation points as much as possible. "We are going to learn a lot about controlling the spacecraft and the performance of the sails in the next few months".

Solar sailing in space isn't exactly new. The satellite deployed its solar ail last week, and now it has successfully maneuvered in space without the help of engines. "It's been a long road and we did it". The spacecraft is in an elliptical orbit around our planet, and every time it raises its orbit on one side, it dips closer to Earth on the other.

In the meantime, the Planetary Society will continue to ride on sunbeams with LightSail 2 for the next month. Therefore as its apogee rises, its perigee, or orbital low point, decreases, exposing it to atmospheric drag that will overcome its weak thrust.



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