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LightSail Spacecraft Deploys Solar Sail Following Setbacks

LightSail Spacecraft

The Planetary Society’s LightSail, a CubeSat designed to sail through space on solar propulsion, is finally deploying its solar sail after its tiny solar sail deployment motor suddenly sprung to life on Sunday afternoon.

Just a little bit over a week from today, the experimental spacecraft went silent while orbiting the Earth and required a reboot. At the time, engineers believed a glitch in the craft’s Linux-based flight software to have been the culprit behind the unresponsiveness, a problem which could only be resolved with a manual reboot. Which, when it comes to objects orbiting our planet, is not necessarily as any feat to accomplish, as there isn’t anybody in space waiting to push the reset button. But all it takes is a charged particle flying through deep space and striking an electronics component in just the right way to initiate the necessary reboot.

While LightSail did come back online after its initial outage, it experienced yet another extended outage which began last Wednesday. Fortunately for the vessel’s operators, it eventually checked back in at 2:21 p.m. EDT this past Saturday. A total of 23 beacon telemetry data packets were received by the ground station at Cal Poly.

Earlier today, at 3:47 p.m. EDT, the solar sail deployment motor kicked in. Telemtry received on the ground indicated that the motor counts were climbing to the halfway point before the ship sailed out of range. power levels were consistent with the ground-based deploiyment tests and the cameras were on, according to a blog posting by Jason Davis on The Planetary Society’s website.

The aforementioned blog entry quoted mission manager David Spencer as having said in an email that the deployment of the solar sail is “proceeding normally.”

All indications are that the solar sail deployment was proceeding nominally

Back in 1976, the legendary astrophysicist Carl Sagan presented his now famous idea of traveling through space propelled by solar propulsion — or solar sailing, if you will.

Today, the Planetary Society’s team is being led by none other than Bill Nye “the Science guy” who has taken Sagan’s idea and attempted to turn it into a reality.

Can you imagine sailing through space on a solar powered spacecraft?

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