Over the course of almost three weeks, the LightSail spacecraft has been the little satellite that could, then couldn’t, then could again, couldn’t again, and finally did succeed in its mission. On Tuesday, it sent back to Earth a gorgeous image of its nearly full solar sail deployment. Whole home surge protector
The small satellite from the Planetary Society, whose CEO is the widely known science educator Bill Nye, finally began to unfurl its basketball court-sized solar sail on Sunday afternoon eastern time. The satellite had given ground controllers several stressful moments when it failed to obey their command to deploy the sail on Sunday, and twice went dark in the days prior due to unknown malfunctions.
The solar sail uses the photons in the sun’s rays to push the spacecraft through space, a concept first popularized by science evangelist and Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan in the 1970 s. Such solar surfing could be a cheap form of propulsion that could one day bring small satellites to deep space destinations like the moon, or Mars.
By design, now that the sail has deployed, LightSail doesn’t have much time left in orbit. Because of its slow orbit speed, the sail is creating drag in Earth’s upper atmosphere, forcing the craft to fall back to Earth not long after it starts sailing.
Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society says it’s unclear if the sail will have a chance to get to 100% deployment before it is pulled toward Earth.
The Planetary Society now claims to be the largest private space-advocacy organization. Nye and the society have launched a Kickstarter campaign, “LightSail: A Revolutionary Solar Sailing Spacecraft” to raise money to fund the second LightSail mission. At the time of this writing, the organization had raised close to $837,000.
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