The Planetary Society, headed by its CEO Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” has announced the successful launch and deployment of their LightSail solar sail in Earth’s orbit. In a statement, the guy in the bow tie who I used to stare at puzzlingly on Saturday morning television said:
While we celebrate this step, LightSail’s biggest tests are still ahead. Over the next days, we will be monitoring our CubeSat as we prepare for the big show: the day LightSail deploys its super shiny Mylar sails for flight on sunlight. Stay tuned; the best is about to happen.
The LightSail is exactly what it sounds like, a large (32 square meters) sail made of aluminized mylar that extends in all directions away from its spacecraft for the purpose of using particles ejected by the sun to propel it through space.
A solar sail is by far the lightest propulsive device we can send into space, and while it is not capable of immediate thrust it is capable of sustained and powerless propulsion. Since the vacuum of space provides no resistance to this propulsion, a solar sail can gradually accelerate to speeds that conventional chemical rockets cannot achieve.
The successful May 20th deployment of the LightSail spacecraft by that wacky guy trying to show my 12 year-old self how to play with garbage is just the first step:
The 2015 test flight will not carry the spacecraft high enough to escape Earth’s atmospheric drag, and will thus not demonstrate controlled solar sailing. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will go through a checkout and testing period of about four weeks before deploying its solar sails. After the sails unfurl, LightSail will study the behavior of the sails for a few days before it is pulled back into Earth’s atmosphere. Key images and data on the spacecraft’s performance will be sent to ground stations at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech.
This data will help Dancing With The Stars contestant Bill Nye launch a LightSail in 2016 that will be able to test controlled orbital flight with a solar sail.
You can be a part of The Science Guy’s 2016 solar sail spacecraft launch by submitting a selfie that will be included on the craft because why the hell not, it’s the future now and this is a sentence that makes sense.
If the next solar sail unfurls in the shape of a bow tie I will lose my friggin’ mind.
Chris Lough eagerly awaits the unveiling of Jaleel White’s asteroid mining company.