LightSail 2 unfurls its sails and soars through space

26 Juillet, 2019, 21:07 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • LightSail 2 First Images Released from Fully Deployed Solar Sail

But on July 23, an entirely new type of ship started sailing - in space.

"The successful deployment of the solar sail and the onset of sail control completes our critical post-launch phase", said LightSail 2 project manager David Spencer.

The sail allows LightSail 2 to harness the power of the sun, making it the first-ever spacecraft propelled exclusively by sunlight.

"Sail deployment complete! We're sailing on sunlight!" the Planetary Society, the group behind LightSail 2, tweeted.

The deployment milestone comes 4 weeks after LightSail 2 launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, and 3 weeks after the Georgia Tech student-built Prox-1 spacecraft deployed LightSail 2 into orbit. LightSail 2's dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail.

The spacecraft's four triangular sails resemble the sails of water-skimming ships in form and function.

The sail, measuring 32 square metres and roughly the size of a boxing ring, was unfurled after the final tests were positive. LightSail 2 does not have the capability to circularize its orbit-as one side of the spacecraft's orbit raises due to solar sailing, the other side will dip lower into Earth's atmosphere, until atmospheric drag overcomes the slight force from solar sailing.

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An artist's impression of the crowdfunded LightSail-2 craft soaring through space. As light reflects off the sail, it transfers momentum to the sail. Each photon's individual momentum is minuscule, but the collective push is (theoretically) enough to get a solar-sail-powered spacecraft moving.

LightSail 2 is created to change its orientation based on where the sun is.

Now that the sail is open, though, it will have to prove it really can pull a small spacecraft using only the power of the sun.

LightSail 2 is focused on becoming the first solar sail launched with the goal of orbiting Earth.

Eventually, solar-sail technology could allow researchers on Earth to harness the sun's rays in order to send a spacecraft zooming in any direction. Their historic journey has so far taken 40 years - a trip that could have taken half the time if they had been fitted with solar sails.

Still, it's early days and a successful demonstration, no matter how short, will be beneficial in helping to spur on advances in this type of technology; advances that 40 years ago would have been advantageous for two pioneering spacecraft now speeding their way beyond the heliosphere, by nothing more than momentum; NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft. That would help scientists answer fundamental questions about our place in the cosmos.



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