A solar sail spacecraft funded by members of The Planetary Society will be launched aboard a Falcon Heavy next month.
“Forty years ago, my professor Carl Sagan shared his dream of using solar sail spacecraft to explore the cosmos. The Planetary Society is realizing the dream,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “Thousands of people from all over the world came together and supported this mission.”
LightSail 2 will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket which is currently scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on June 22, 2019. The solar sail spacecraft will be deployed from a partner spacecraft, Prox-1 at an altitude of 720 kilometres. Once deployed, operators will extend its 32-square-meter (344 square feet) sails and attempt to raise its orbit and increase its orbital energy. If successful, it will be the first spacecraft to ever do so using nothing but sunlight.
The spacecraft is an iterative upgrade of LightSail 1, a prototype launched aboard an Altas V in May 2015. LightSail 1 suffered communication difficulties following deployment but the mission would ultimately be declared a success with the spacecraft reentering the Earth’s atmosphere in June 2015.
The major design improvement between the two generations of the LightSail spacecraft is the addition of a momentum wheel that allows LightSail 2 to rotate and aim its sails. LightSail 2 also has ground-based laser ranging capabilities and completely overhauled software.