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Planetary Society delighted as LightSail phones home

Privately funded solar sail satellite LightSail has rebooted itself and sent a message to its controllers on Earth after an eight-day silence.

“Our LightSail called home!” Bill Nye “the Science Guy” of the Planetary Society said. “It’s alive!”

The small satellite module about the size of a shoebox was launched into space early last week. The silence was due to suspected software glitch.

“Based upon the on-board timers contained within the beacon (and comparing them to beacons following deployment), it appears that a reboot occurred within the past day,” wrote Georgia Tech professor David Spencer, LightSail’s mission manager.

“Due to uncertainty in the orbit state (TLEs), our ability to reliably track the spacecraft is marginal at this point. Cal Poly is coordinating with international colleagues to arrange their support in acquiring beacon telemetry,” he said.

The mission is test the craft that many scientists believe will provide the basis for a propulsion system that could carry us into deep space. This time is being tested in Earth orbit – too low to capture the power of the Suns rays – with the hope of launching a space flight in 2016. 

“Light is made of packets of energy called photons. While photons have no mass, a photon traveling as a packet of light has energy and momentum.” the Planetary Society explains.

“Solar sail spacecraft capture light momentum with large, lightweight mirrored surfaces—sails. As light reflects off a sail, most of its momentum is transferred, pushing on the sail. The resulting acceleration is small, but continuous.”

Back in 1976, Sagan himself spoke of the power and advantages of the system in an appearance on Johnny Carson’s, The Tonight Show.

 

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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