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LightSail 2 unfurls in orbit, marking the climax of solar sail experiment

23 Jul 2019, 23:50 UTC
LightSail 2 unfurls in orbit, marking the climax of solar sail experiment
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An artist’s conception shows LightSail 2’s four triangular solar sails fully deployed in orbit. (Planetary Society Illustration / Josh Spradling)
The nonprofit Planetary Society says its LightSail 2 experiment spread out its solar sails today, nearly a month after it took a piggyback ride to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Following through on 2015’s LightSail 1 mission, this latest flight is designed to demonstrate not only that the 18.4-foot-wide, 4.5-micron thick reflective Mylar sails can be successfully deployed from a shoebox-sized spacecraft, but also that they can be used to maneuver in orbit.
LightSail 2 is pushed by the pressure of sunlight, much as a seagoing sailboat is pushed by the pressure of the wind. Theoretically, bigger and more capable sails could be used to drive a spacecraft around the solar system, or even outward to other stars.
The $7 million project is largely funded by Planetary Society members and private donors. LightSail 2 was packed aboard the Falcon Heavy as part of a larger payload called Prox-1 and delivered to orbit on June 25. Since then, the spacecraft has been going through checkouts and snapping pictures of the planet below.
Today’s crucial unfurling of the experiment’s four ...

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