Tag Archives: The Planetary Society

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.


Light Sail 2 beams back first images

Capitalism in space: The Planetary Society’s privately funded spacecraft Light Sail 2, launched June 25 on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, sent back its first images from orbit on July 7.

The images are not very interesting to look at, mostly because their purpose is engineering. Two cameras took pictures of the light sail’s deployment equipment inside the spacecraft to show that it is still in good shape. Another picture showed the Earth, demonstrating that the camera will be able to image the deployment of the solar sail, which might occur as early as today. UPDATE: They have announced that the deployment will not occur prior to July 21.

Once deployed from a cubesat about the size of a loaf of bread, the sail will be about the size of a boxing ring. They will then attempt to use the sunlight bouncing off it to sail in space, changing the sail’s orbit.

The science team also announced the debut of a mission control website, where the public can see live updates whenever the spacecraft sends back new information. As I write this the solar sail is still listed as “stowed,” but that status will change once they attempt the deployment.

For the public this website will be especially useful once the sail deploys, because it will be very bright to observers on the ground. The site shows Light Sail 2’s present position, making it possible for viewers to better anticipate when they will be able to see it fly overhead.

Update: This post has been revised slightly to make it more accurate, as per a comment by reader Rex Ridenoure.