The Planetary Society has delayed the deployment of the LightSail 2 spacecraft’s solar sail in order to conduct additional testing on its attitude control system.
The LightSail 2 spacecraft was launched aboard a Falcon Heavy on June 25 from the Kennedy Space Centre. The spacecraft is privately funded by members of The Planetary Society, a nonprofit focused on political advocacy and public outreach for projects related to planetary science, astronomy, and space exploration. It will seek to validate solar sail technology as a viable propulsion method for deep space exploration.
On a July 7 Twitter post, The Planetary Society announced it would begin sail deployment on Monday 8 July between 22:00 UTC and 05:30 UTC the next day. However, earlier this morning, a follow-up tweet confirmed the deployment had slipped a day in order to allow for additional time to test the spacecraft’s attitude control system.
Once deployed, the 4.5-micron-thick Mylar sail will have a total surface area of 32m2. The sail is expected to provide the spacecraft with 0.058mm/s2 of acceleration. Although small, with no gravity or atmosphere to slow it down, a solar-sail-powered spacecraft can accelerate to speeds “that would be practically impossible for chemical rockets to achieve.” In the case of the LightSail 2, with a month of constant sunlight, the spacecraft would increase its speed by a total of 549 kilometres an hour. Over a two or three-year mission, that speed would be exceptionally higher.
You can find out more about the LightSail 2 spacecraft’s progress on its Mission Control page.