Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019 - 8

BRIEFINGS

SWATCHES

Flight by light:
sun-powered,
citizen-funded

S

cientists at The Planetary Society have
demonstrated the power of solar energy
with a spacecraft that orbits the earth fueled
solely by sunlight. The LightSail 2 was
developed for a CubeSat, a small, standardized
satellite about the size of a loaf of bread that
hitches a ride to space with larger payloads.
It features four aluminized Mylar sails
measuring a total of 344 square feet packed
inside; each sail is just 4.5 microns thick,
less than the width of a human hair.
The LightSail team's goal was to
demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a
CubeSat by changing the spacecraft's orbit
using only light from the sun, something
that's never been done.
In space, LightSail 2's solar arrays opened,
revealing the inside of the satellite and
unwinding four metallic booms to unfold the
sails. It spent a month raising its orbit with
the power of sunlight. After about four days,
it raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by
about 1.25 miles. The perigee, or low point
of its orbit, dropped by a similar amount,
which is consistent with pre-flight
expectations for the effects of atmospheric
drag on the spacecraft. The mission team
confirmed the apogee increase could only
be attributed to solar sailing.
The spacecraft's orbit raising phase was
about two months; it is now deorbiting and
will reenter the atmosphere in about a year.
The Mylar sail may currently be visible for
some observers at dusk and dawn. For more
information, visit www.planetary.org.

8 REVIEW DECEMBER 2019

The first citizen-funded
spacecraft to successfully
demonstrate a new
form of propulsion, the
LightSail 2 could be a
game-changer that opens
up space exploration.
Approximately 50,000
people from more than
100 countries, as well
as foundations and
corporate partners,
donated to the $7 million
mission from 2009
through March 2019.
Photos: Josh Spradling,
The Planetary Society.


http://www.planetary.org

Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019

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