LightSail 2 heads into orbit aboard Falcon Heavy in June

Shane McGlaun - May 15, 2019, 7:19am CDT
LightSail 2 heads into orbit aboard Falcon Heavy in June

The Planetary Society has announced that its next-generation of light-propelled satellites will launch next month. LightSail 2 will head into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket scheduled for liftoff on June 22 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once the LightSail 2 spacecraft is in orbit, it will deploy a solar sail that is the size of a boxing ring meant to give the satellite propulsion using solar photons.

The Planetary Society says that this launch is the cumulation of a decade long project that has its origins tied to the three engineer/scientists who founded the company in 1980. Those scientists were Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman. If the mission is successful, LightSail 2 will be the first spacecraft to raise its orbit around the Earth using sunlight.

Light has no mass, but it does have momentum that can be transferred to other objects. The solar sail aims to harness that momentum for propulsion. LightSail 2 plans to demonstrate the application of solar sailing for CubeSats.

CubeSats are small standardized spacecraft that have made spaceflight more affordable for academics, governments, and private institutions. LightSail 2 is hitching a ride into space aboard the DoD Space Test Program-2 mission. That mission is sending 24 spacecraft into three different orbits. LightSail 2 will be enclosed within Prox-1, a Georgia Tech designed spacecraft that was built to demonstrate close-encounter operations with other spacecraft.

Prox-1 will display LightSail 2 seven days after its launch. A few days after various health and status checks are performed, Lightsail 2 will deploy its four dual-sided solar panels. About a day later four metallic booms will unfurl along with four triangular Mylar sails. The combined area of the sails is 32 square meters. The continual thrust from the solar sail should raise the orbit of LightSail 2 by a measurable amount for about a month after sail deployment.

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