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.

Planetary Society Regains Contact With LightSail

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)

PASADENA, Ca., May 30, 2015 (Planetary Society PR) — After a successful launch into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft went silent after two days of communications. The solar sailing spacecraft test mission, a precursor to a 2016 mission, has now resumed contact after a suspected software glitch affected communications. The LightSail team will soon determine when to attempt deployment of the spacecraft’s Mylar® solar sails.

Bill Nye (The Science Guy), CEO at The Planetary Society, issued the following statement:

“Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails— and we’ll make those decisions very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good.”

For in-depth coverage of LightSail’s test and 2016 missions, follow embedded reporter, Jason Davis at planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis.

ULA to Launch X-37B, LightSail on Wednesday

X-37B after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 16, 2012. (Credit: Boeing/USAF)
X-37B after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 16, 2012. (Credit: Boeing/USAF)

The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious X-37B spacecraft and The Planetary Society’s LightSail prototype will share a ride into space from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday aboard an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster. NASA will also conduct a materials sciences experiment aboard the X-37B.

The launch window opens at 10:45 a.m. EDT and runs until 2:45 p.m. EDT. ULA will webcast the launch at http://www.ulalaunch.com.

The weather forecast shows a 60 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.

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Secret Workshop Reaches Consensus on Human Mars Mission; Details to Follow

Mars_Soil
Washington, D.C., April 2, 2015 (Planetary Society PR)
– The Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (The Science Guy®) and members of the Society’s Board of Directors today announced results of the ”Humans Orbiting Mars” workshop. The goal of the workshop was to gather expert science, engineering, and policy professionals to build consensus on the key elements of a long-term, cost constrained, executable program to send humans to Mars.

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Planetary Society Says NASA Budget Proposal Inadequate

Planetary_Society_LogoPASADENA, Calif. (TPS PR) — The Planetary Society cannot fully support the FY2015 NASA Budget Request. While there are some positive aspects—particularly the newfound openness to exploring Europa and the continued science operations of most high-priority planetary missions—the request imposes unacceptable cuts to the Science Mission Directorate that damage the immediate and long-term health of some of NASA’s most successful programs, particularly planetary exploration. If this budget is passed unchanged, there will be fewer planetary missions in development by 2019 than at any point in the past few decades (Fig. 1).

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Planetfest 2012 to Celebrate Curiosity Landing

The Planetary Society is holding its Planetfest Event this Saturday and Sunday in Pasadena to celebrate the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover. The details:

August 4, 2012, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
August 5, 2012, 2:00 pm – 11:30 pm or later

Pasadena Convention Center
300 E. Green Street
Pasadena, CA 91101

Tickets

The program will feature leaders in space exploration, including:  Charles Elachi, Director of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Bill Nye (the Science Guy®); planetary vulcanologist Rosaly Lopes; Jim Bell, PanCam lead on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and member of the Curiosity team; Planetary Society blogger Emily Lakdawalla; Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell; NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green; former “Mars Czar” Scott Hubbard; Star Trek™ actor Robert Picardo; historian Shelley Bonus; author and space historian Andrew Chaikin; space artists; and private space entrepreneurs.

In addition to this full schedule, both days will have the following ongoing events and displays:

  • Touch a piece of Mars: A fragment of a real martian meteorite discovered in Sultanate of Oman.
  • See a full-size mockup of the XCOR Lynx sub-orbital vehicle
  • A space-themed art show with over 50 works of art including 4 original pieces just for Planetfest.
  • Hands-on science activities for kids of all ages (build your own Martian sundial, dirty comets workstation, First Robotics demonstrations)
  • A full-size model of the Curiosity rover that will land on Mars
  • Demonstrations and hands-on workstations for NASA Eyes on the Solar System and Google Mars
  • XBoxes with the Mars Rover Landing Game
  • The Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) used in the current Mars rover mission and other future tech from Honeybee Robotics
  • A room full of presentations and displays about the future of space from our sponsors.

Get more information.

Bill Nye, Lou Friedman to Discuss New Space Plan on Webchat

Where Should We Go in Space?
Tell Bill Nye During a Live Ustream Chat

“Tell us where you want to go in space!” said Bill Nye, slated to take the reins as the Planetary Society’s new executive director.

Nye will join Louis Friedman, the Society’s current executive director, on July 14, 2010 to talk with the public about The New NASA Plan — Destinations, during a live interactive video event on Ustream.

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Groups Praise SpaceX for Successful Falcon 9 Flight

The National Space Society, the Planetary Society, and the Space Foundation all issued statements praising SpaceX for the first flight of the Falcon 9 rocket on Friday.

NATIONAL SPACE SOCIETY

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) on a successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket, The launch payload for this test flight was the aerodynamic test article for the Dragon cargo and crew module.

Gary Barnhard, Executive Director of the National Space Society, said, “This is another milestone in the annals of spaceflight.  By successfully launching a multi-engine, multi-stage rocket of their own design and manufacture with a payload to Low Earth Orbit, SpaceX has taken a bold step forward.  Make no mistake about it, building rockets is not a forgiving business.  Their successful flight is a testament to SpaceX’s concerted efforts to get it right.  The eyes of the world were on them and they did get it right.”

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Druyan: Solar Sail Could be “Kitty Hawk” Moment

solarsail_msfc

Space.com has an interesting interview with writer-producer Ann Druyan, who is the widow of Carl Sagan. She talks about the Apollo program and her hopes for the future of America’s space program.

S: Do you have any particular space endeavors in mind?

A: I would love to see personally – and have been working as hard as I can on the notion of – solar sailing. This is something that could be tremendously cost-effective, because solar sailing is a way to move through the cosmos at speeds unprecedented. You know Voyager moves at 38,000 miles an hour, which is very impressive and extremely fast to us. But of course the cosmos is so very big that that won’t get you very far. Solar sailing is a way to move ten times faster.

I’ve been working with the Planetary Society for the last decade trying to launch a solar sailing mission precisely because I believe it would be a Kitty Hawk moment for space exploration. It would thrill me to see a very ambitious program of solar sail research, because I think that that would give us an edge, and I think we want that feeling again of being on the cutting edge.

Read the full interview.

Friedman Works to Resurrect Solar Sail Project

Across the Universe
The Atlantic

The Volna rocket had risen out of the water, flown through the sky, and pierced the low-lying clouds. The Volna, a Soviet-era ICBM, had been refitted for peaceful duty, and on this first day of summer, it was lifting Cosmos 1 up from a Russian submarine and toward Earth orbit. If the spacecraft got there, it would deploy eight tissue-thin “blades,” 600 square meters of Mylar that would catch the sun and begin propelling the craft, on nothing but light, through humankind’s first solar-sailing voyage. The ship, beautiful as a flower or firework, would be controlled from the ground by two teams, each so small that Mission Operations Moscow was called MOM and Project Operations Pasadena was POP….

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