LightSail Falls Silent Again as Battery Problem Suspected

The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

UPDATE: Ground controllers have received data packets from the satellite. They’re now analyzing them and planning their next move, which could be deployment of the solar sail.

It’s not looking good again for The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft. After losing communications with the ground and then regaining it, the experimental CubeSat again fell silent after what appeared to be the successful deployment of its solar panels.

In an e-mail summary sent this afternoon, mission manager David Spencer said before contact was lost, LightSail’s batteries did not appear to be drawing current from the solar arrays; nor were they properly shunting power to the spacecraft’s subsystems.

“Following solar panel deployment,” he wrote, “it was noticed that all of the battery cells were drawing near zero current. This indicated that the batteries were likely in a fault condition stemming from the solar panel deployment event.”

Unless controllers can get the spacecraft online, it will not be possible to deploy the spacecraft’s solar sail.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    I’ve been following a couple Lightsail personalities on Twitter. One is @StellarExInc (http://www.stellar-exploration.com); the group that designed, tested, and installed Lightsail. Based on the demeanor of their tweets, I don’t think they’re too happy with the way the Planetary Society is running the mission.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    sucks to be one of those shlubs that gave them money on kickstarter. lol

    If you think the future of space propulsion is an extremely huge & extremely fragile solar sail, then you deserve to have your money leave you.

  • mzungu

    What? you mean with solar power decreasing at Inverse-square law speed when you moving away from the sun wasn’t enuf? 😀

  • windbourne

    Why do you say that?
    IMHO, this was a good experiment and it was a good use of the money.
    This shows a number of things already.
    First, that space remains hard.
    Secondly, the tech to make space-ready parts is not well enough known.
    Third, a nice small hub manufactured by companies such as OATK, would make for a good business proposal.

    Finally, if you think that the sail was fragile, then you might want to look at the lunar landers up close.

  • windbourne

    Yes, but it is a good way to explore the our own orbit and perhaps even the asteroid belt.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    I’m not a fan of “space is hard”. I think it’s a cop out. From the Twitter conversation I posted below, I get the impression that designers/fabricators of the lightsail feel that the Planetary Society has mismanaged the mission.

  • windbourne

    So did planetary society do the soldering as well as engineering?

  • Flatley

    The problems the spacecraft is facing are obviously not related to the sail concept itself.

  • patb2009

    Mission Management, Spacecraft Construction and non-profit organizational
    management are all distinct skill sets.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    He said while investing in coal and oil. 🙂

  • mzungu

    Stuck? It just got there, and that is it’s mission. It just barely started it’s mission there. Are you pivy to the amount of xenon on board or something?

    That’s like saying Mars Orbiter are stuck in Mars’ orbit…

  • windbourne

    dawn was going to be sent to a 3rd point if they had the xenon. They spent it already. Dawn is stuck at Ceres.
    And Mars Orbiters were designed for going just around Mars, not visiting multiple other sites.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_(spacecraft)#Transit_.28Vesta_to_Ceres.29

  • mzungu

    Quote from your Wiki page… ” The Dawn mission was designed to study TWO large bodies in the asteroid belt”…. 3rd ?