Planetary Society Says LightSail 2 Demonstrated Flight by Light

LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

The Planetary Society says that its LightSail 2 satellite has demonstrated the ability to change its orbit by the power of light.

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.

“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”

The milestone makes LightSail 2 the first spacecraft to use solar sailing for propulsion in Earth orbit, the first small spacecraft to demonstrate solar sailing, and just the second-ever solar sail spacecraft to successfully fly, following Japan’s IKAROS, which launched in 2010. LightSail 2 is also the first crowdfunded spacecraft to successfully demonstrate a new form of propulsion.

“For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun. The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.”

Picture and Animations of LightSail 2 Deployed

LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:48 PDT (18:48 UTC). Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2’s dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected.

LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 1
Credit: The Planetary Society

View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 1, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.

LightSail 2 Sail Deployment From Camera 2
Credit: The Planetary Society

View of the deployment of half of LightSail 2’s square sail from Camera 2, which happened on 23 July 2019 at 18:47 UTC. The animation runs at about 100 times actual speed.

LightSail 2 Deploys Solar Sail

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

Update: Wednesday, 24 July 2019

10:00 PDT

Flight controllers successfully downloaded partial imagery from LightSail 2 this morning that confirm the solar sail is fully deployed. Upon completion of image downlink during subsequent ground station passes, The Planetary Society will issue a full story.

New data points from LightSail 2 telemetry show the solar sail was in its expected orientation during ground station overflights. Once the mission team has completed imagery downlink, they will move on to stored telemetry files, which will allow them to more thoroughly evaluate the sail’s performance.

Planetary Society-funded PlanetVac Picked by NASA for Possible Moon Flight

PlanetVac Sample Collection: Attached to a lander leg, PlanetVac collects a surface sample by using an inert gas to move regolith into the sample container. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Calif. (Planetary Society PR) — PlanetVac, a Planetary Society-funded technology that simplifies the process of collecting samples from other worlds, may fly to the Moon.

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LightSail 2 Phones Home to Mission Control

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

LightSail 2 Mission Update
July 2, 2019

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft sprang loose from its Prox-1 carrier vehicle as planned today, and sent its first signals back to mission control at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California.

The CubeSat, about the size of a loaf of bread, was scheduled to leave Prox-1 precisely 7 days after both spacecraft successfully flew to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Following deployment from its spring-loaded enclosure known as a P-POD, LightSail 2 deployed its radio antenna and began transmitting health and status data, as well as a morse code beacon indicating its call sign. The mission team received LightSail 2’s first signals on 2 July at 01:34 PDT (08:34 UTC), as the spacecraft passed over Cal Poly.

“The Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft did its job perfectly, delivering LightSail 2 to the desired orbit for solar sailing,” said LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer. “Receiving the initial radio signal from LightSail 2 is an important milestone, and the flight team is excited to begin mission operations.”

“We’re all very happy—after years of preparation, we are flying an operational spacecraft!” added Bruce Betts, LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist.











A Look at the Payloads in Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 Mission

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — The Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), is targeting launch on June 24, 2019, with the launch window opening at 11:30 p.m. ET. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this mission will deliver 24 satellites to space on the DoD’s first ever SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours. In addition, the U.S. Air Force plans to reuse side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch, recovered after a return to launch site landing, making it the first reused Falcon Heavy ever flown for the U.S. Air Force.
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New Coalition Formed to Revive Canadian Space Program


A new coalition of industry, academic and interest groups has launched  a campaign called Don’t Let Go Canada in an effort to bolster the Canadian space program.

“While other countries have been increasing their investments in space, Canada has fallen from 8th place in 1992 to 18th place (% of GDP), and hasn’t had a long-term plan to guide Canada’s investments for decades,” the group said on its website.

“The economic stakes of space participation are higher than ever. The global space market is worth over USD $380B today; analysts forecast it will grow to be a multi-trillion-dollar market in coming decades,” the website states. “Ambitious governments are staking their claims. Luxembourg plans to be the leading country in space mining; the UK aims to capture 10 percent of the global space market by 2030.”

Among the members of the coalition are MDA, Honeywell, Magellan Aerospace, ABB, AIAC, Neptec, Canadian Space Society, Canadian Astronautics and Space Institute, and The Planetary Society. A full list of members is on the organization’s website.

The group is calling for a properly funded, long-term Canadian Space Strategy to guide the nation’s efforts. One pressing concern is a decision on whether Canada will participate in the U.S.-led Lunar Gateway program, which will place a human-tended station in orbit around the moon.











Weekend Reading: Spaceport America, SpaceX, LightSail 2 & More

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility in October 2011. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Dream a Little Dream of Me: SpaceX’s launch of Bangladesh’s “dream” satellite, Bangabandhu 1, has them celebrating in Dhaka. https://www.thedailystar.net/science/space-science/bangladesh-bd-first-commercial-satellite-bangabandhu-1-on-way-orbit-after-successful-launch-space-spacex-florida-us-1575244

Musk’s Big Promises for F9 B2: Crazy Elon’s prices are so low they’re insane! https://www.investors.com/news/spacex-elon-musk-predictions-reusable-falcon9-lower-costs/

A Shot of Maple Syrup, Coming Right Up: Nick Rose samples the cuisine for David Saint-Jacques’ upcoming mission to the International Space Station. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nekwyz/canada-astronaut-food-david-saint-jacques-perspective-space

All Quiet on the Spaceport Front: Maggie Grimason visits Truth or Consequences and finds patience is wearing thin. https://undark.org/article/spaceport-america-new-mexico/

Let there be LightSail: Jason Davis has an update on The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2, whose launch aboard Falcon Heavy is now set for the Fall.
http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/2018/20180511-lightsail2-launch-slip.html

Kenya Enters the CubeSat Age: A homegrown satellite is launched from the International Space Station. https://qz.com/1275698/kenya-to-launch-first-satellite-into-space/











Opposition to Nye’s State of the Union Attendance Grows

Bill Nye (Credit: Montclair Film Festival)

The criticism of the decision by The Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) to attend Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address tonight at the invitation of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has grown to include a petition and an opinion piece in a prominent scientific publication.

An online petition urging Nye to cancel his plans started by ClimateHawkVote had garnered 35,790 signatures, more the 35,000 it was seeking. The petition reads:

President Donald Trump is a bigoted climate denier. So is Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Trump’s embattled nominee for NASA Administrator. So why is Bill Nye “very pleased” to be Bridenstine’s guest at Trump’s first State of the Union address?

Bill, please be the Science Guy, not the Bigoted Climate Denial Guy. Cancel your plans to attend Trump’s State of the Union as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest.

An opinion piece in Scientific American by the organization 500 Women Scientists disagrees with Nye’s claim that he is not endorsing Bridenstine, the Trump Administration or their science policies by attending the annual address.

But by attending the SOTU as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest, Nye has tacitly endorsed those very policies, and put his own personal brand over the interests of the scientific community at large. Rep. Bridenstine is a controversial nominee who refuses to state that climate change is driven by human activity, and even introduced legislation to remove Earth sciences from NASA’s scientific mission. Further, he’s worked to undermine civil rights, including pushing for crackdowns on immigrants, a ban on gay marriage, and abolishing the Department of Education….

The true shame is that Bill Nye remains the popular face of science because he keeps himself in the public eye. To be sure, increasing the visibility of scientists in the popular media is important to strengthening public support for science, but Nye’s TV persona has perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats—a stereotype that does not comport with our lived experience as women in STEM. And he continues to wield his power recklessly, even after his recent endeavors in debate and politics have backfired spectacularly.

In 2014, he attempted to debate creationist Ken Ham—against the judgment of evolution experts—which only served to allow Ham to raise the funds needed to build an evangelical theme park that spreads misinformation about human evolution. Similarly, Nye repeatedly agreed to televised debates with non-scientist climate deniers, contributing to the false perception that researchers still disagree about basic climate science. And when Bill Nye went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to “debate” climate change in 2017, his appearance was used to spread misinformation to Fox viewers and fundraise for anti-climate initiatives.











Bridenstine Attempts to Soften Anti-Science Image with The Science Guy

Bill Nye in Washington. (Credit: Planetary Society)

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is defending his controversial decision to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address this evening as a guest of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), whose nomination to serve as NASA administrator is facing a tough fight in the Senate.

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LightSail Falls Silent Again as Battery Problem Suspected

The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

UPDATE: Ground controllers have received data packets from the satellite. They’re now analyzing them and planning their next move, which could be deployment of the solar sail.

It’s not looking good again for The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft. After losing communications with the ground and then regaining it, the experimental CubeSat again fell silent after what appeared to be the successful deployment of its solar panels.

In an e-mail summary sent this afternoon, mission manager David Spencer said before contact was lost, LightSail’s batteries did not appear to be drawing current from the solar arrays; nor were they properly shunting power to the spacecraft’s subsystems.

“Following solar panel deployment,” he wrote, “it was noticed that all of the battery cells were drawing near zero current. This indicated that the batteries were likely in a fault condition stemming from the solar panel deployment event.”

Unless controllers can get the spacecraft online, it will not be possible to deploy the spacecraft’s solar sail.











Planetary Society Regains Contact With LightSail

The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. (Credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Ca., May 30, 2015 (Planetary Society PR) — After a successful launch into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft went silent after two days of communications. The solar sailing spacecraft test mission, a precursor to a 2016 mission, has now resumed contact after a suspected software glitch affected communications. The LightSail team will soon determine when to attempt deployment of the spacecraft’s Mylar® solar sails.

Bill Nye (The Science Guy), CEO at The Planetary Society, issued the following statement:

“Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails— and we’ll make those decisions very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good.”

For in-depth coverage of LightSail’s test and 2016 missions, follow embedded reporter, Jason Davis at planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis.