LightSail-2 successfully raises its orbit using sunlight


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Capitalism in space: By raising its orbit by the use of sunlight only, LightSail-2 has confirmed what an earlier Japanese solar sail Ikaros had demonstrated, that it is possible to use solar sails to travel in space.

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The perigee, or low point of its orbit, has dropped by a similar amount, which is consistent with pre-flight expectations for the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text notes a secondary but possibly more important engineering achievement here. LightSail-2 was launched as a cubesat. It has now proven that such a cubesat can include a solar sail and use it for purposes of transportation.

Moreover, that this engineering test was funded entirely by private funds proves again that the government is not necessary for great things to be achieved.

They will continue to raise the spacecraft’s apogee for the next month, until the lowering of the perigee causes the spacecraft to get pulled out of orbit by the drag from the atmosphere. That second process will still take about a year.

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2 comments

  • Jerry Greenwood

    This is great but why not use the sail to increase both perigee and apogee and raise the orbit to, say the Clark belt or is the lower perigee the penalty for the higher apogee?

  • Edward

    A third demonstration that this presents us is that 750 km is too low for a practical start point for a solar sail. I suspect that being below the practical start point was an objective of The Planetary Society in order to assure the sail did not end up as space debris at the end of the test.

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