"We're thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2", said LightSail program manager Bruce Betts.
LightSail 2, the spacecraft the Planetary Society sent up to space approximately a month ago recently unfurled a light-catching sail and has been "raising its orbit exclusively on the power of sunlight". The Planetary Society says that LightSail 2 has raised part of its orbit about 1.7 kilometers, and that this change "can only be attributed to solar sailing".
"Our standards were to reveal controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by altering the spacecraft's orbit using only the light pressure of the Solar, something that is never been carried out before".
Following Japan's IKAROS solar sail, which was launched in 2010, LightSail 2 is simply the second-ever successful attempt at solar flying. However, unlike IKAROS, LightSail 2 can use this technique of propulsion for actually changing its orbit.
It is proved how LightSail 2 is being maneuvered autonomously by an imminent algorithm. During this time, scientists will work to refine the solar sail, particularly how the craft's momentum wheel works to keep the sails pointed at the sun. It amazes me that 50,000 people came together to fly a solar sail.
The satellite was developed by the Planetary Society, a California-based space research and education nonprofit group whose chief executive is the TV personality popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy. The spacecraft is in an elliptical orbit around our planet, and every time it raises its orbit on one side, it dips closer to Earth on the other.
Spencer explained during a press briefing while talking about the upper limit of altitude, 'The atmospheric density at those altitudes is really poorly modeled and highly variable, and so we don't really know at what point atmospheric drag is going to overcome our ability to continue orbit raising. "It's been a long road and we did it".
The applications for this technology are limitless, and scientists have proposed using it in the search for alien life, monitoring weather on the Sun and as a warning system for incoming asteroids.
"This technology enables us to take things to extraordinary destinations in the Solar System and maybe even beyond, in a way that was never possible before", Nye said in the briefing, "because you don't need fuel, you don't need all the systems to control fuel, manage fuel and buy fuel". At the lowest point in its orbit (perigee) the sail points directly at the sun, adding a little more speed to its orbit.
Solar sailing in space isn't exactly new.
Flight by light, or "sailing on sunbeams", as Nye said, could best be used for missions carrying cargo in space or on small satellites with enough room for deploying larger, and thus more powerful, solar sails.
The idea seems totally insane: A spacecraft with no active propulsion system that can travel through space using light in the same way that a sailboat uses wind.