Monday, July 21, 2014

Planetary Society: LightSail-1 Solar Sail cubesat to Launch by 2016

Nine years after a rocket failure destroyed its solar-sailing spacecraft, the Planetary Society, the nonprofit space advocacy group led by scientist and popular TV host Bill Nye, is ready for another try.

On Wednesday (July 9), the Planetary Society announced launch dates for its LightSail-1 spacecraft, a possible test flight in 2015 (LightSail-A) and a full mission the next year (LightSail-B) with nearly identical hardware.

Both solar sail missions operate under the LightSail-1 designation.

LightSail-B will steer in Earth's orbit using nothing more than radiation from the sun. Made up of three miniature CubeSats, it will launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, which has yet to be flown.

The four sails will ride inside the CubeSats until they're ready to be unfurled, several weeks after liftoff.

Prox-1 cubesat developed by Georgia Instutute of Technology.

Credit: GIT

LightSail-B will be boosted to medium-Earth orbit inside another spacecraft called Prox-1, a Georgia Institute of Technology project.

Prox-1 will spit LightSail out and remain nearby to watch the spacecraft unfurl.

LightSail-A, meanwhile, would only reach low-Earth orbit in a mission designed to show how well the craft operates in space.

The sails themselves should be visible to the naked eye from Earth; they cover 344 square feet (32 square meters), Planetary Society representatives said.

LightSail-1 is a successor to the society's Cosmos 1, which failed to reach orbit aboard a Russian Volna rocket in 2005.

It ended up falling into the Barents Sea, an Arctic sea located off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia, the very location where it had launched by submarine.

The Planetary Society sees solar sailing as a vast improvement over traditional spacecraft, which require expensive fuel and engines to perform maneuvers in space. Sailcraft instead use solar radiation to increase their speed.

This is a gradual pressure that takes more time to move spacecraft, but Nye said he sees this as a more sustainable way to explore the solar system.

No comments:

Post a Comment