The privately funded LightSail 2 CubeSat has become the first to successfully demonstrate the use of solar-sail population by raising its orbit by about 2 kilometers.
“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before.”
Development of LightSail 2 began in 2009 with more than $7 million in funding from over 50,000 members of The Planetary Society. It was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rideshare mission on June 25, 2019, and successfully deployed its four triangular sails a month later.
Following a short configuration period, during which mission managers optimised how the spacecraft orientated itself during solar sailing, it began to raise its orbit. Over the last four days, LightSail 2 has successfully raised its orbit by about 2 kilometers. Additionally, the Planetary Society mission team has confirmed that apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, validating the completion of the mission’s primary goal.
“For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.”
LightSail 2 will continue to raise its orbit powered by nothing but the sun over the next month. Once its month-long orbit-raising phase is complete, the spacecraft will begin to deorbit. It is expected to reenter, and ultimately burn up in the atmosphere roughly a year later.
The public can track the progress of the LightSail 2 mission in real-time through the Planetary Society’s mission control dashboard.