Images confirm LightSail-2 deployment success

LightSail-2 sail deployed
Click for full resolution image.

Capitalism in space: The LightSail-2 engineering team has now confirmed, based on images from the cubesat, that its light sail has successfully deployed.

Flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California commanded the spacecraft to deploy its solar sails yesterday at about 11:47 PDT (18:47 UTC). Images captured during the deployment sequence and downloaded today show the 32-square-meter sail, which is about the size of a boxing ring, deploying as the spacecraft flew south of the continental United States.

Image caption: This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:48 PDT (18:48 UTC). Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2’s dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected.

To the right is a reduced version of this image. As they note, the sail is distorted because of the fisheye nature of the camera lens. Nonetheless, it looks like the sail is deployed, and will be able to do its job, testing how one maneuvers in space using only sunlight.

UPDATE: Rex Ridenoure from Ecliptic Enterprises emailed me to explain that the distortion is only seen in the image above, that the image at the link has been corrected for this (as noted in the caption above). If you compare the two, you will see that the Earth is round in the corrected image.

Since the sail is much closer to the lens, I remain unsure how much of what we see of its shape is real, or a function of the fisheye lens. Later thumbnails show the sail more flat and tightly stretched, suggesting that this image was taken during deployment.

LightSail-2 successfully deploys light sail

Capitalism in space: The LightSail-2 engineering team today successfully deployed its boxing ring-sized light sail from its cubesat.

All indications are that LightSail 2’s solar sail has deployed successfully. Flight controllers sent the deployment command at approximately 11:45 PDT (18:45 UTC). Telemetry showed the motor count increasing as expected, and the motor appeared to halt at the correct time. LightSail 2’s cameras also appeared to capture imagery as planned.

The mission team will now confirm successful deployment by downloading imagery during subsuquent ground station passes today.

Once checked out, they will begin tests to see how they can use sunlight to change the light sail’s orbit, literally sailing in space.

The wonders of freedom: This mission was privately paid for and built by the Planetary Society.