LightSail Solar Sail Deploys

After much travail, the solar sail on LightSail deployed yesterday evening.


(LightSail artist's rendering)

LightSail's tiny solar sail deployment motor sprung to life Sunday afternoon, marking an important milestone for The Planetary Society’s nail-biting test mission. Sail deployment began at 3:47 p.m. EDT (19:47 UTC) off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, as the spacecraft traveled northwest to southeast.

Telemetry received on the ground showed motor counts climbing to the halfway point before LightSail traveled out of range. Power levels were consistent with ground-based deployment tests, and the spacecraft’s cameras were on. "All indications are that the solar sail deployment was proceeding nominally," wrote mission manager David Spencer in an email update.

The current mission is to test LightSail's deployment functions; as a shakedown test, lots of lessons learned. The spacecraft will probably enter the atmosphere and burn in 2-10 days. It is expected that LightSail 2 will make use of a higher orbit (at greater expense) and have a longer mission.

SF fans recall wonderful early stories about solar sail craft like the light sail from Jack Vance's 1962 short story Sail 25 (see this article for more on the subject) and the starlight sail from The Lady Who Sailed The Soul (1960) by Cordwainer Smith.

However, I think readers would like to know more about Arthur C. Clarke's excellent short story Sunjammer and the solar yacht, which appeared in Boy's Life in 1964. A remarkable event - a race between private craft from the Earth to the Moon - is chronicled in the story.


(Sunjammer from Boy's Life)

But Merton knew better: though his body could feel no thrust, the instrument board told him that he was no accelerating at almost one thousandth of a gravity. For a rocket, that figure would have been ludicrous - but this was the first time any solar yacht had ever attained it...

Why not read the story? Find it here.

Via The Planetary Society.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/8/2015)

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