The LightSail Mission, a solar sail project from the Planetary Society, launched today at 11:05am! It's a small project with a big idea: using solar pressure to propel a spacecraft. Below are five fun facts about this awesome mission.
1. LightSail is a Solar Sail
A solar sail is a space propulsion technology that uses the radiation and particles that come out of the sun as a force to propel a spacecraft. This is similar to how sailboats use wind as a force to move across the water. This concept of solar pressure is a proven phenomenon that affect all spacecraft. It's a low-thrust propulsion system (so it's not great for all applications), similar to electric engines. Check out Carl Sagan explaining this concept below.
While the LightSail mission won't actually practice solar sailing, it will test out their sail deployment sequence. This is an important first step to make solar sailing possible.
2. LightSail is a CubeSat
LightSail is one of ten CubeSats that are hitching a ride on the United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 today. CubeSats have a standard unit size of a 10 cm cube, which can be stacked together, just like space legos! (Well, sort of) These small satellites have become increasingly popular due to their small size and relatively low cost.
3. LightSail is On Board with a Classified Space Plane
The main payload on board today was the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane which will conduct a months-long mystery mission. Most of what this space plane is doing is classified, so we really don't know what it's going to do over the next few months. Inttttterrresting!
4. LightSail is a Project from Bill Nye
The LightSail Mission is a project from the Planetary Society, of which Bill Nye is the CEO. The Planetary Society is a nonprofit organization that is involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, and science outreach. Yes, Bill Nye doesn't just talk about science!
5. LightSail was Crowdfunded
The LightSail project is on KickStarter and had an initial goal of raising $200,000, but as of posting this blog it has raised $605,500! Their goal is to perfect this technology that could potentially provide unlimited, free energy from the sun for low-cost cubesat projects.