First Sunlight Sailing Spacecraft To Begin Testing in May

LightSail and the Milky Way (artist's rendition) 4 photos
Photo: Planetary Society
LightSail and the Milky Way (artist's rendition)LightSail spacecraft prior to sail deploymentLightSail during its day-in-the-life test
The age of using fuel that burns to move around in space could end sooner than we might think. At least for some kind of spacecraft, because the first solar sailing satellite, the Planetary Society LightSail, will begin testing in May this year.
Sailing on sunbeams might sound like some kind of metaphor from a romantic poems book, but it is as real as it could be and is entirely funded by normal civilians that consider space travel cool.

Solar sailing works pretty much like wind sailing, but instead of air blowing into huge sails to push the boat, sunlight will move it in a similar way. Photons colliding with the huge Mylar sail will transfer their momentum to the spacecraft, gradually accelerating it thorough space.

Yeah, the push is almost insignificant, it is a continuous and unlimited energy source hitting the four identical triangular sails attached to four 4-meter booms that make a huge square sail made out of very light, yet strong enough material to be efficient.

The orbit is the limit for now

The LightSail will be packaged into a small spacecraft called a CubeSat, which is also used by universities and other research groups in low-cost space missions. The apparatus was designed by Stellar Exploration Inc., in San Luis Obispo, California.

First launch will take place in May 2015, with an Atlas V rocket giving a piggyback ride to the solar sailing satellite up into the higher atmosphere. It won’t be much, but the team will test the spacecraft’s critical functions and only after that they will send it into Earth-orbit next year along with the first operational launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

“LightSail is truly ‘the people’s satellite.’ Thanks to our members, the dream of citizen supported solar sailing will become a reality; the vision goes back to our founders, Lou Friedman, Bruce Murray, and Carl Sagan. We encourage space fans worldwide to join us on LightSail’s journey. Together we can change the world.” Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye concluded.

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