Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 Solar Vehicle Proceeding Toward Launch

The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sail. Credit: Rick Sternbach/The Planetary Society

As Japan prepares to deploy its IKAROS solar sail spacecraft, the Planetary Society’s Lou Friedman has published an update on the non-profit group’s similar effort, LightSail-1, which is set for launch during the second quarter of 2011. An excerpt:

The LightSail-1 spacecraft development is proceeding well. Our engineering team—led by Jim Cantrell—has completed the preliminary design and made critical decisions to select the hardware and subsystem for the final design—crucial milestones to building the vehicle that will demonstrate the value and potential of using sunlight alone to propel exploratory craft through space.

Thanks to you and your fellow Planetary Society Members, we are well under way with LightSail-1, the first of our planned series of three flights. The three missions will be progressively more ambitious, starting in Earth orbit and moving out into the solar system. One anonymous Member got the program off to a flying start with a donation of $1 million. From around the world, other Members have come through with matching donations, ranging from $5 to $100,000, that have allowed us to begin work on this ambitious project.

In January, we completed the preliminary design review (PDR). A team of aerospace experts—including former Jet Propulsion Laboratory project managers Harris M. (Bud) Schurmeier, Glenn Cunningham, and Donna Shirley, as well as Aerospace Corporation’s David Bearden—evaluated progress to date. This review panel went over the development of the LightSail program, including mission requirements.

The panel members agreed that our self-imposed requirements might be too ambitious to meet given the available resources and suggested relaxing some capabilities until the second or third LightSail mission. After all, plans for our first spacecraft, LightSail-1, were pushing the limits of what can be accomplished with a four kilogram spacecraft while also introducing new capabilities such as an attitude control system, two radios, onboard imaging, a solar pressure sensor, and, of course, the deployable sail.

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