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  The Planetary Society's LightSail solar sails

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Author Topic:   The Planetary Society's LightSail solar sails
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 29949
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 11-09-2009 05:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Planetary Society release
Planetary Society to Sail Again with LightSail New Project Will Launch Three Separate Solar Sails Over Next Several Years

"We're back!" said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "With an even more ambitious solar sail program than our last venture."

The Planetary Society today announced LightSail, a plan to sail a spacecraft on sunlight alone by the end of 2010. The new solar sail project, boosted by a one-million-dollar anonymous donation, was unveiled at an event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C on the 75th anniversary of the birth of Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan, a long-time advocate of solar sailing.

LightSail is an innovative program that will launch three separate spacecraft over the course of several years, beginning with LightSail-1, which will demonstrate that sunlight alone can propel a spacecraft in Earth orbit. LightSails 2 and 3, more ambitious still, will reach farther into space.

"We are going to merge the ultra-light technology of nanosats with the ultra-large technology of solar sails in an audacious new program," said Friedman.

Taking advantage of the technological advances in micro- and nano-spacecraft over the past five years, The Planetary Society will build LightSail-1 with three Cubesat spacecraft. One Cubesat will form the central electronics and control module, and two additional Cubesats will house the solar sail module. Cameras, additional sensors, and a control system will be added to the basic Cubesat electronics bus.

"To get sunlight to push us through space, we need a large sail attached to a small spacecraft. Lightsail-1 fits into a volume of just three liters before the sails unfurl to fly on light. It's elegant," exclaimed Planetary Society Vice President Bill Nye the Science Guy.

LightSail seeks to create and prove solar sail technologies that in a few years can

  • monitor the Sun for solar storms,
  • provide stable Earth observation platforms, and
  • explore our solar system without carrying heavy propellants.
Sailing on light pressure (from lasers rather than sunlight) is also the only known technology that might carry out practical interstellar flight, helping pave our way to the stars.

"Sailing on light is a pathway to the stars, but on that path are also some very important scientific and engineering applications that help us understand and protect our own planet and explore other worlds," remarked Planetary Society President Jim Bell.

Reflected light pressure, not the solar wind, propels solar sails. The push of photons against a mirror-bright surface can continuously change orbital energy and spacecraft velocity. LightSail-1 will have four triangular sails, arranged in a diamond shape resembling a giant kite. Constructed of 32 square meters of mylar, LightSail-1 will be placed in an orbit over 800 kilometers above Earth, high enough to escape the drag of Earth's uppermost atmosphere. At that altitude the spacecraft will be subject only to the force of gravity keeping it in orbit and the pressure of sunlight on its sails increasing the orbital energy.

Lightsail-2 will demonstrate a longer duration flight to higher Earth orbits. LightSail-3 will go to the Sun-Earth Libration Point, L1, where solar sails could be permanently placed as solar weather stations, monitoring the geomagnetic storms from the Sun that potentially endanger electrical grids and satellite systems around Earth.

The Planetary Society's attempt in 2005 to launch the world's first solar sail, Cosmos 1, was scuttled when its launch vehicle, a Russian Volna rocket, failed to reach Earth orbit. But the organization's membership never lost faith in the goal to sail on wings of light, and now, thanks to their continued support - including the million dollar private (and anonymous) donation - the new LightSail project will begin.

Sagan's widow and collaborator, Ann Druyan - whose Cosmos Studios was the Society's partner and principal sponsor of Cosmos 1 - serves as Chief Advisor to the current project.

Druyan commented, "Carl and I once wrote 'We have lingered too long on the shores of the cosmic ocean. It's time to set sail for the stars.' We are celebrating his birthday by announcing the maiden voyages of a fleet of ships conceived to fulfill that mythic imperative. I think I know what this would have meant to him."

James Cantrell, CEO of Strategic Space Inc, is Project Manager of LightSail-1. Stellar Exploration will build the spacecraft in San Luis Obispo, CA. Other team participants include the Cubsesat development group at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and a team at Russia's Space Research Institute.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 29949
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-09-2014 09:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Planetary Society release
LightSail Has a Launch Date!

The Planetary Society's Highly-Innovative Solar Sail Scheduled to Ride Into Orbit Aboard SpaceX Falcon Heavy, The World's Most Powerful Rocket

The Planetary Society, the world's largest and most influential space interest group, announced Wednesday (July 9) that its LightSail solar sail will reach space on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in 2016.

"It's fantastic that at last we have a launch date for this pioneering mission," said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye The Science Guy. "When I was in engineering school, I read the book about solar sailing by my predecessor, Society Co-founder Louis Friedman. But the dream of sailing on light alone goes back much further."

The Planetary Society has a long history of solar sail activity. In June 2005, the Society attempted to launch Cosmos 1, which would have been the first solar sail in space. The failure of a Russian booster doomed that effort, but the Society never gave up the dream of sailing the cosmos on the gentle yet constant pressure exerted by sunlight. Solar sailing promises tremendous advantages over traditional chemical rockets. There is no need to carry fuel for complex rocket engines, as the Sun provides an endless source of energy for propulsion. Solar sailing and related techniques have been called the only practical way to reach other stars.

While there have been other solar sail missions in the last decade — notably Japan's IKAROS — none have attempted what LightSail will. First, LightSail is entirely funded by Planetary Society members and other private donors. Further, technologies developed for LightSail may enable other small interplanetary spacecraft to achieve success. The creation and launch of cubesats is now within reach of universities and other organizations that could once only dream of flying their own missions.

Cubesats utilize a standard design based on 10-centimeter (about 4-inch) cubes. LightSail is three cubes, or just 30 centimeters long. Tucked inside this tiny package are four ultra-thin Mylar sails that will be deployed a few weeks after orbital insertion. These brilliantly reflective wings will expand to 32 square meters (344 square feet), making LightSail easily visible to naked eye observers on Earth.

LightSail will reach Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) stored inside another innovative spacecraft: Prox-1 - developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology to demonstrate new technologies enabling two spacecraft to work in close proximity. After ejecting LightSail, the largely student-built Prox-1 will track and image LightSail, including the sail deployment.

Carrying Prox-1 and LightSail to Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) will be the new Falcon Heavy, developed by SpaceX of Hawthorne, California — the most powerful rocket ever built and the largest since the Saturn V that delivered Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

A test flight of LightSail on a smaller rocket may also be conducted in 2015. This flight will only reach low earth orbit (LEO), where there is still too much atmosphere for a solar sail to function. It will nevertheless allow the LightSail team to check the operation of vital systems in the extreme environment of space. That team includes faculty and students at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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