Wednesday, July 09, 2014

GO LIGHTSAIL! Aiming For Launch In 2016 (And Possibly 2015 As Well)...

An artist's concept of The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft orbiting the Earth.
The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society just announced tonight that it is aiming to launch a privately-funded solar sailing spacecraft into Earth orbit in early 2016. Known as Lightsail-1, this craft would hitch a ride aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket (which will make its maiden flight sometime next year) in April of 2016 and soar up to 450 miles above the Earth before deploying its Mylar-constructed solar sail. If successful, Lightsail would become the third craft [or fourth...depending on when NASA's Sunjammer takes flight (possibly by the end of this year)] to deploy an ultra-thin membrane out in deep space—behind Japan's IKAROS interplanetary probe and NASA's NanoSail-D (both launched in 2010).

Waiting for launch vehicles and launch dates to be chosen, the twin Lightsail spacecraft are secured inside a cleanroom in early 2012.
The Planetary Society

The Lightsail launching in 2016 is actually known as Lightsail-B; The Planetary Society will possibly try to launch a test version, known as Lightsail-A, into low-Earth orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket in early 2015. Unlike Lightsail-B, however, Version A will only be used to test sail deployment, the craft's telecommunication system and take images. Lightsail-B will be the one to utilize its membrane to push off against sunlight as a means of propelling itself through deep space. If this mission is successful, Lightsail will definitely join IKAROS and company in paving the way for a new era of efficient propulsion through the cosmos. Godspeed!

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