February 26, 2024

LightSail 2 Has Been Flying in Space for 30 Months – Paving the Way for Future Solar Sail Missions

Solar sails use the power of photons from the Sun to move spacecraft. As the spacecraft swings its sails into the sunlight, it raises its orbit by as much as a couple of hundred meters a day. The little spacecraft doesnt have the means to tilt the sails specifically enough to prevent decreasing its orbit on the other side of the planet. The sail appears a little curved due to the spacecrafts 185-degree fisheye video camera lens. Mission engineers approximate the spacecraft could remain in orbit for at least another year.

This was the view on June 25, 2019, the night our LightSail 2 objective blasted into orbit. It rode into space on a @SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket together with 23 other spacecraft. It was amazing! pic.twitter.com/ls7I84nyWf.
— Planetary Society (@exploreplanets) November 16, 2021.

A recent update from TPS states that LightSail 2s elevation above Earth is presently about 687 kilometers.
” Thanks to optimized sail pointing in time, elevation decay rates throughout recent months have been the very best of the whole mission,” composed TPSs Jason Davis. “Thrust even occasionally overcame atmospheric drag, slightly raising the spacecrafts orbit. Furthermore, below-average Sun activity has actually kept Earths upper atmosphere thin for much of the mission, producing less drag on the sail.”.
The Sun has just recently become more active, releasing considerable solar flares. The LightSail 2 team thinks that this activity is likely now triggering greater orbital decay rates than those seen previously in the mission. Mission engineers estimate the spacecraft might stay in orbit for at least another year.
And in the meantime, while the spacecraft keeps sending back amazing images from orbit, engineers continue to glean insights that can be passed along to future missions.
Keep in mind: If you are planning to visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., designs of LightSail 2 will become part of a new screen at the Smithsonians FUTURES exhibit, a collection of art and innovation that showcases the future of humanity. The new exhibit begins November 20, 2021 at the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and will continue till July of 2022. More details from TPS here.
Originally published on Universe Today.

This image taken by The Planetary Societys LightSail 2 spacecraft on November 13, 2020 reveals the northern Philippines and Typhoon Vamco. Spectraline (fishing line type material) that initially held the spacecraft panels closed can be seen in the lower right and left.
Even after 30 months in area, The Planetary Societys LightSail 2 objective continues to effectively “sail on sunbeams” showing solar sail technology in Earth orbit. The mission is providing tough data for future objectives that wish to employ solar sails to explore the universes.
LightSail 2, a little cubesat, introduced in June 2019 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, as a presentation objective to test how well a solar sail could alter the orbit of a spacecraft. A month after launch, when LightSail 2 unfurled its ultra-thin 32-square-meter Mylar sail, the mission was stated a success due to the fact that the sail raised the orbit of the small, loaf-of-bread-sized spacecraft.

That launch nebula, however.

A spacecraft with a solar sail would not require to bring fuel therefore might theoretically travel for longer periods of time, as it would not require to refuel.
As the spacecraft swings its sails into the sunlight, it raises its orbit by as much as a couple of hundred meters a day. The small spacecraft does not have the means to tilt the sails precisely enough to prevent decreasing its orbit on the other side of the world.
This picture of Chile was taken by LightSail 2 on February 17, 2020. The Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia can be seen at the top-center. North is at right. The sail appears somewhat curved due to the spacecrafts 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has actually been color changed and a few of the distortion has actually been removed. Credit: The Planetary Society.

” Were going to a higher orbital elevation without rocket fuel, just with the push of sunshine,” The Planetary Societys (TPS) CEO Bill Nye said at an interview following the deployment. “This concept that you could fly a spacecraft and could get propulsion in area form nothing however photons, its unexpected, and for me, its really romantic that you d be sailing on sunbeams.”.
TPS, whose members moneyed the $7 million mission, stated it shares objective information with NASA to help 3 upcoming solar sail missions: NEA Scout, Solar Cruiser, and ACS3. NEA Scout is scheduled to drawback a flight to lunar space as early as February 2022 on NASAs Space Launch System rocket during the Artemis I check flight. The objective will use its solar sail to leave the area of the Moon and visit an asteroid.
Solar cruises utilize the power of photons from the Sun to propel spacecraft. Over time, if a spacecraft is out in space without any environment to overload it, it might potentially speed up to exceptionally high speeds.