Oh, the things we can do together! Today, Wednesday, the 20th of May 2015, the partially crowdfunded light flight spacecraft LightSail was launched for its first test trip into the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s an odd looking spaceship (aren’t they all?), with its boxing ring sized solar pushed sail spread out and propelled forward as protons in the sunlight hits it. The sail is accompanied by a tiny satellite called CubeSat, not larger than a loaf of bread, which will act as a rocket. This step is also taking CubeSat projects in themselves a notch higher. Before it’s not been efficient to launch them on their own, since the fuel took up too much room, so that instead, it had to be launched together with other spacecrafts. With the light flight technology, small satellites too can go to space on their own.
On the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, LightSail sets off towards the sky today, as the Planetary Society hopes to see it in orbit around our globe next year. The project is crowdfunded by 11,000 people with the impressive sum of $600,000, covering quite a large part of the total cost of $4,5 million.
If someone plans on using this type of solar driven vehicle to go through space, he or she had better be prepared for a constant acceleration as long as the solar energy keeps hitting the sail.
Bill Nye, Chief Executive at the Planetary Society spoke about project LightSail this March: “We’ve been working to get a solar sail into space since I joined the Planetary Society board in 1997.”
So how will LightSail spend its few precious days in Earth’s upper atmosphere? There are two things on the agenda. One is to test its attitude control system, and the other is to study the behavior of the sails.
If you hurry up now, the live broadcast of the launch is, at the time that this article is published, due in 2 hours, 20 minutes and 49, 48, 47…