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LightSail 2 has successfully deployed its solar sails. Shortly after 12:00 pm PST The Planetary Society tweeted that the sails were deployed, and that the spacecraft was sailing with sunlight. We can all enjoy their success and start to wonder how solar sails will fit into humanity’s plans for space exploration.
This is a dramatic moment for LightSail 2 and for The Planetary Society, the world’s largest non-profit space organization. LightSail 2 is the third spacecraft in their LightSail program. It was launched on June 25th, and has been in orbit since then, preparing for sail deployment and sending us some sweet pictures of Earth.
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A series of tweets from The Planetary Society told the tale throughout the morning.
LightSail 2’s sail is actually a system of four smaller triangular sails that make one large square when deployed. Once deployed, the sail measures 32 sq. meters, or 340 sq. ft. Once it’s deployed, it can be used to raise the spacecraft’s orbit, demonstrating the power and usefulness of solar sails.
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The deployed light sail measures 32 sq. meters, or 340 sq. feet. Image Credit: The Planetary Society.
Next came some telemetry from the tiny satellite, showing that the motor count was rising. Telemetry also showed that the cameras were active.
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We’re still waiting for some new images from LightSail 2, but we do have this nice gif to look at in the mean time.
If you’re not familiar with solar sail technology, the idea is relatively simple, at least in theory.
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A solar sail utilizes the momentum of the photons coming from the Sun, much the same way that a sailboat captures the energy in the wind. The light sail doesn’t capture the photons. The photons bounce off of the reflective surface and propel the sail. It’s lightweight, simple technology that has great potential.
In the vacuum of space,...
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