PASADENA, Calif., November 21, 2019 (Planetary Society PR) — The Planetary Society, the world’s largest independent space interest organization, is proud to announce their crowdfunded solar sailing spacecraft, LightSail 2, has been recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019.
The Planetary Society says that its LightSail 2 satellite has demonstrated the ability to change its orbit by the power of light.
Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.
“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”
The milestone makes LightSail 2 the first spacecraft to use solar sailing for propulsion in Earth orbit, the first small spacecraft to demonstrate solar sailing, and just the second-ever solar sail spacecraft to successfully fly, following Japan’s IKAROS, which launched in 2010. LightSail 2 is also the first crowdfunded spacecraft to successfully demonstrate a new form of propulsion.
“For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun. The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.”
This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:48 PDT (18:48 UTC). Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2’s dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected.
LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 1
View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 1, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.
LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 2
View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 2, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.
Flight controllers successfully downloaded partial imagery from
LightSail 2 this morning that confirm the solar sail is fully deployed.
Upon completion of image downlink during subsequent ground station
passes, The Planetary Society will issue a full story.
New data points from LightSail 2 telemetry show the solar sail was in
its expected orientation during ground station overflights. Once the
mission team has completed imagery downlink, they will move on to stored
telemetry files, which will allow them to more thoroughly evaluate the
The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is almost ready to go solar sailing.
Mission officials today cleared the spacecraft for a possible sail
deployment attempt on Tuesday, 23 July 2019, during a ground station
pass that starts at roughly 11:22 PDT (18:22 UTC). A backup pass is
available the following orbit starting at 13:07 PDT (20:07 UTC). These
times may change slightly as new orbit predictions become available.
Live sail deployment coverage will be available at planetary.org/live.
A video and audio stream from mission control, located at Cal Poly San
Luis Obispo in California, will be available during ground station
passes. Rolling updates will also be posted on the page for context.
The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft sprang loose from its Prox-1 carrier vehicle as planned today, and sent its first signals back to mission control at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California.
The CubeSat, about the size of a loaf of bread, was scheduled to leave Prox-1 precisely 7 days after both spacecraft successfully flew to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Following deployment from its spring-loaded enclosure known as a P-POD, LightSail 2 deployed its radio antenna and began transmitting health and status data, as well as a morse code beacon indicating its call sign. The mission team received LightSail 2’s first signals on 2 July at 01:34 PDT (08:34 UTC), as the spacecraft passed over Cal Poly.
“The Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft did its job perfectly, delivering LightSail 2 to the desired orbit for solar sailing,” said LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer. “Receiving the initial radio signal from LightSail 2 is an important milestone, and the flight team is excited to begin mission operations.”
“We’re all very happy—after years of preparation, we are flying an operational spacecraft!” added Bruce Betts, LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist.