The experimental spacecraft, LightSail 2, developed by space advocacy group The Planetary Society, which was launched on 25 June aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, has now set sail in space.
The crowdfunded spacecraft unfurled a 32-square-meter solar sail on July 23 at approximately 2:47 PM EDT and a motor onboard the LightSail 2 CubeSat began utilizing said solar sail. This would help the spacecraft propel itself through space by harnessing sunlight.
Through the Lightsail 2, The Planetary Society aims to demonstrate the viability of solar surfing as a propulsion technique for spacecraft.
Jennifer Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer at The Planetary Society, expressed joy at this development during a live stream of LightSail 2’s deployment from the control center in California.
We’re very excited to be passed this huge milestone. We now have a sail. It’s time to go sailing! … We now start the very difficult process of sailing in space
Since the launch of the first successful solar sail demonstration flight, Ikaros, by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2010, and the launch of a small CubeSat sail called Nanosail-D in the same year, there have been no successful launches till the LightSail 2.
With the LightSail 2 mission, The Planetary Society’s goal is to make the spacecraft spend a year orbiting Earth by being powered by photons, light particles emitted by the Sun.
Earlier this month, on July 7, LightSail 2 had beamed back its first views of the Earth and, as confirmed by The Planetary Society, has successfully captured photographs during the deployment maneuver.
The success of the solar sail spacecraft in the coming days could prove that using photons to propel spacecraft using this technology deep into the solar system is truly feasible.